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Southwestern Ontario health coalitions speak against private health care

Posted: March 2, 2022

(February 28, 2022)

By: Tom Morrison, Chatham Daily News

Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton and Wallaceburg-Walpole Island health coalitions, top-left, hosts a press conference over Zoom about a campaign against health care privatization in Ontario Feb. 28, 2022. (Screenshot)

Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton and Wallaceburg-Walpole Island health coalitions, top-left, hosts a press conference over Zoom about a campaign against health care privatization in Ontario Feb. 28, 2022. (Screenshot)

Citing comments made by Ontario’s health minister, Southwestern Ontario health-care advocates are launching a campaign against what they say is a plan for further privatization of the health-care system that provincial officials deny.

During a virtual news conference held Monday, Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton and Wallaceburg-Walpole Island health coalitions, twice played a clip of Minister Christine Elliott speaking at the beginning of February.

Elliott, who was announcing a plan to resume surgeries at the time, said the government was “making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate” and mentioned “private hospitals.”

However, the spokesperson for the minister said the government “is committed to supporting the province’s public health-care system.

“The use or function of private hospitals and independent health facilities in Ontario is not being expanded or changed,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

“Minister Elliott’s comments were in reference to the gradual resumption of previously scheduled non-urgent surgeries and procedures that were delayed as part of ‘Directive #2’ at public hospitals, as well as existing independent health facilities and private hospitals in Ontario.

“We recognize the impact the delay of certain surgeries and procedures has had on patients. These facilities perform publicly (OHIP) funded procedures and will ensure patients can access the health care they need when they need it.”

Roebuck acknowledged Elliott had clarified some of her comments, but said “her words are pretty confusing and jumbled with her statement that she didn’t say she wanted to privatize health care.”

Chapters of the Ontario Health Coalition will start their campaign against privatization on April 7 with an “emergency summit” held over Zoom at 7 p.m., which is open to everyone. The campaign will also include lawn signs, billboard and window decals.

“The problem is somebody has got to fix it and it’s going to be up to us, the voters,” said Roebuck, referring to a provincial election in June.

Katha Fortier, who oversees Unifor’s health-care division, said public hospitals are in a “crisis,” but putting more funding towards private health care turns the system “on its head.”

“They steal resources from the public system and make the public system even worse,” Fortier, also the assistant to Unifor’s national president, said. “They are not magically going to create nurses and all of the … people that you need to perform surgeries. They’re going to take them out of our public system.”

Speakers at the press conference also brought up the government’s funding of more beds for private long-term care homes as a concern in light of what these facilities have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study released by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table in January 2021 determined for-profit long-term care homes had 78 per cent more resident deaths than non-profit facilities during the pandemic’s first two waves.

June Weiss, co-chair of the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition, said the province should not help private companies profit “at the expense of our loved ones” in these facilities.

“We desperately need them (more beds), but they should be looking at public non-profit long-term care homes,” said Weiss, who worked for 30 years as a pharmacy technician at Bluewater Health. “Many of these private companies, such as Rivera and Chartwell, they’re being rewarded 30-year long-term care home licences.”

Hilkene said Ontario is “fixing long-term care so every resident experiences the best possible quality of life, supported by safe, high-quality care.

“This includes a $6.4-billion commitment to build more than 30,000 net new beds by 2028 and 28,000 upgraded long-term care beds across the province.”

Roebuck also pointed to a Financial Accountability Office report from June 2021, which found the Progressive Conservative government would need to cut $17.8 billion in public services on a permanent basis to meet its plans for a balanced budget by 2029-30.

“What do you think would survive $17.8 billion?” Roebuck asked. “This is really quite dire, folks.”

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