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Sault and Area Health Coalition protests for increase health-care funding

Posted: April 25, 2016

(April 25, 2016)

By: Jeffrey Ougler, Sault Star

SAULT STE. MARIE – The Ontario Health Coalition seeks residents’ two cents regarding the health of health care.

Lack of funding is a key culprit as care continues to erode, members suggest. The coalition — including branches such as the Sault and Area Health Coalition — bank on the Ontario-wide, unofficial referendum to raise awareness about what it contends is a system in critical condition.

“People are waiting 10 months for procedures here,” said Margo Dale, Sault coalition chair, pointing to Sault Area Hospital, which was the backdrop Monday for a rally and official referendum unveiling.

About 20 coalition members and supporters braved cold rain and winds at noon to protest at the corner of Great Northern Road and Lukenda Drive. Many held signs and placards, often difficult to manage as winds whipped the open area.

The unofficial referendum will ask Ontarians if they’re for or against the idea: “Ontario’s government must stop the cuts to our community hospitals and restore services, funding and staff to meet our communities’ needs for care.”

Ballot boxes will be distributed to businesses, workplaces and community centres across the province before May 28, when votes will be tallied and presented to Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The coalition argues the system has received short shrift for years and is below the Canadian per capita average by about $350 per person.

The provincial Liberals ended a four-year hospital base funding freeze in its latest budget, pledging to spend $60 million on hospital budgets, along with $75 million for palliative care and $130 million for cancer care.

The Ontario Health Coalition — and its Sault branch — are not impressed.

“Right now, we have 22 people in (the) emergency (department) who are already admitted, but they don’t have a bed,” Dale told The Sault Star. “We have some people admitted, but they’re in emergency, like, for five days.

“We have a lot of difficulties here,” Dale said, referring to a recent Algoma Public Health report whose statistics continue to show Algoma district residents having a higher rate of newly diagnosed cancer cases than the provincial amount. Specifically, recent numbers, from 2010 to 2012, show rates were higher for colorectal, esophageal, kidney and renal pelvis, lung and bronchus, prostate and thyroid cancers. Also, the 2013-2014 Canadian Community Health Survey shows many residents here are not faring well on several key lifestyle factors.

For example, of Algoma residents aged 12 and over, 23.8% report they are current smokers, 27.8% admit to excessive alcohol consumption at least once a month and 58.7% report they are overweight.

Coalition figures indicate 19.1% of the population here is over 65 compared to 12% for Ontario, with 23.6% having high blood pressure, compared to 17.6% for the province. Also, 28.2% of the population has arthritis, compared to 17.2% for the rest of Ontario and 9.7% has diabetes, compared to 6.6% provincially.

As Algoma continues to age, the situation will only become more dire, Dale said.

“We have a higher need,” she added.

At SAH, specifically, departments across the facility have been cut in recent years, including operating rooms, ICU, oncology, surgery, hemodialysis, infection control, patient care co-ordination, nursing and personal support. In February, the hospital reported that at the end of January, it had an operating deficit of $480,000, an improvement of more than $670,000 from the previous year at that time. Based on “anticipated actions” in the balance of the fiscal year, the year-end forecast continues to be a $1-million surplus, as budgeted.

Folgo DellaVedova, past Sault coalition chair, said Monday’s rally was not geared to “target’ hospitals.

“CEOs are really in a bind because of the funding they are provided, and they have to work within that framework,” he said.

“(But), if funding doesn’t get to the end person, in this case the patients, then there’s a problem even with the CEOs. There are two issues here. They have to work within their means. And, at the same time, they have to make quality decisions with the funding that they do have.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer to assist the coalition’s referendum may contact Dale by telephone (705-254-2885) or e-mail (margodale@shaw.ca).

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