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Rally protests health-care cuts

Posted: November 30, 2015

(November 30, 2015)

By: North Bay Nugget

The size of your wallet should not determine the quality of health care you receive.

That was the message delivered to close to a thousand protesters calling for the provincial government to free up more money for hospitals in Northern Ontario – particularly the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

“In North Bay, and across Northern Ontario, we are seeing the most severe cuts,” Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said.

The rally drew supporters from across the province to protest cuts across the province. This year, the North Bay Regional Health Centre announced it was cutting almost 160 positions and closing more than 30 beds in an attempt to stave off a flood of red ink.

“Here you are looking at 100 layoffs every year” if the province does not end a freeze on health-care spending, Silas said.

Silas was one of a number of speakers who called on the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne to increase spending on health care in the province. North Bay, they said, is particularly hard hit because it is a P3 hospital – a Public-Private Partnership – and because it brought three hospitals – two general and one psychiatric – under one roof.

“It is time to raise the alarm,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said. “This is devastating to the community, so let’s raise the alarm.”

She said people should not ,ale the mistake of “believing that these hospital services are being replaced in so-called community care. You do not replace medical and surgical beds in community care. It’s just not community care. It is acute hospital care services that are being cut.

“You do not replace emergency room nurses. You do not replace cleaners in community care. Let’s not buy in to the nonsense that is just window dressing to cuts, cuts and more cuts to out local services that are needed by the community.”

Michael Taylor, one of the organizers of the rally, said the cuts in North Bay are “the worst and deepest cutbacks . . . that affect departments throughout the whole hospital.

Jamie Nyman was part of a large contingent from Sudbury to travel to North Bay Monday.

“This is a very important issue,” he said. “The government is cutting services and patient care is declining.”

Sudbury, he pointed out, has also seen a lot of cuts.

“It’s leaving us with too much workload,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of workload issues because of cuts.”

Debbie McCrank from Kirkland Lake, the local co-ordinator for the Ontario Nurses Association, said the cuts are “going to impact all the North.”

She is responsible for the area from Kirkland Lake to North Bay, including Mattawa and West Nipissing.

The North Bay Regional Health Centre, she said, is “a major treatment centre,” but the province’s cuts are putting that designation at risk, and putting extra pressure on all hospitals in the North.

“It’s just having a huge impact,” McCrank said of the health funding cuts.

“It comes down to cheaper care versus quality care,” she said. “The province is driven by the budget, not by the concern for quality health care.”

Another supporter was Mike Labelle, a locked-out employee at Ontario Northland.

“I’m here to support all the nurses and everyone on down,” he said. “Health care has really deteriorated here, and it’s time the government wakes up.”

He said the mass of protesters “is the heart of the hospital.”

About 100 Ontario Northland employees, he said, had turned up for the rally.

Canadian Union of Public Employees president Mark Hancock said the provincial government’s health care cuts amount to an attack on the local hospital and the community.

“The funding freeze means hundreds of staff and beds across Northern Ontario,” he said, pointing to placards waved by hospital workers in Timmins, New Liskeard and Sudbury pointing out the effects of cuts at those facilities.

Hancock said health care needs a 5.8% annual increase just to meet rising costs, but the freeze means hospitals are getting 0%.

In real terms, he said, that works out to a 20% cut over the life of the spending freeze.

Also speaking was North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, who said the situation at the hospital is a major concern in the city.

In addition to proper health care for all members of the community, he said, the jobs being cut at the hospital are good paying jobs, and “if you want to build the city, you needs your hospital to provide the same level of care as they have in southern Ontario.”

Nearby, Stan Zima was waving a large Canadian flag on a 10-foot flagpole.

“It’s obvious the cuts in Northern Ontario have become excessive, and especially in North Bay,” he said. “We are taking big hits in this. Hospital cuts hurt everybody.

“Wynne has got to get the message. Northern Ontario is suffering more than any other area.”

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, speaking at Queen’s Park, called on the provincial government to address the funding crisis at the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

“Health care professionals and patients alike in my riding are concerned that the quality of care we’re getting in Nipissing is in jeopardy. And it’s creating turmoil in the community,” Fedeli said, asking the government to restore “proper ongoing funding” to the facility.

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