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Sudbury’s health coalition girds for battle

Posted: February 21, 2022

(Feb. 19, 2022)

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The Sudbury Health Coalition announced on Friday that it is participating in a provincewide campaign to oppose the privatization of Ontario’s health care system.

The coalition joined its Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma partners for a video conference on Friday to discuss the impacts of privatization on local health care services and their plan to organize an effective local response.

During the video conference, coalition representatives said the Ford government announced plans to bring “private for-profit hospitals” to Ontario in addition to handing 18,000 long-term care beds to for-profit companies in 30-year contracts.

They also accused the province of failing to reinstate comprehensive inspections, improving care levels, privatizing “the last remaining public parts of home care,” and allowing private testing clinics to charge hundreds of dollars for COVID-19 tests.

Sudbury’s health coalition said they’d be participating in the campaign to advocate for urgently needed improvements in care under the province’s public, non-profit health care system.

“We are warning about the plans that are to begin immediately after the provincial June election this year,” said Dot Klein, the chair of the Sudbury Health Coalition.

“This will lead to severe cuts to our public health-care services. The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is launching a fight back in our regions to safeguard public health care services and to stop privatization and the health care cuts.”

Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the OHC, said Thursday the Ontario government’s plans have been “mostly hidden” due to the attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She accused Ontario’s health minister of squeezing a “bombshell” announcement into a recent press conference about easing COVID-19 restrictions throughout the province.

“The health minister announced that she is going to allow private clinics – which are euphemistically called independent health facilities in Ontario – to operate private hospitals in this province,” said Mehra.

Mehra then played a clip of the press conference where Elliot said, “we’re opening up pediatric surgery and cancer screenings, making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate private hospitals.”

“Did you catch that? I will play it one more time in case you missed it,” said Mehra, who played the clip again.

“(Elliot) goes on to name a litany of other public health measures. The issue is this. Private hospitals are banned in Ontario. They’ve been banned essentially since OHIP came in 1972.”

She added that the Private Hospitals Act was most recently amended in 1971.

“As of 1973, all future private hospitals have been banned in this province. The act only really does one thing. It bans private hospitals,” she said.

“It grandfathered any existing ones at that time, and then stopped any new ones from being opened. We have a public, not-for-profit hospital system in this province. There are only three private hospitals left.”

She said the grandfathered private hospitals are limited in what they do.

“Two of them do surgeries. One of them is the Shouldice Hospital, which does particularly hernia surgeries and only does healthy people – does not take anyone who is overweight, has diabetes, comorbidities or other complex conditions,” said Mehra.

“The other is the Don Mills Surgical Centre, which does walk-in day surgeries in, again, very limited numbers. The other one is an addictions facility.”

Mehra reiterated that Elliot announced she’s going to allow private clinics in Ontario – of which “over 97 per cent are for-profit, according to the provincial auditor” – operate private hospitals.

For-profit hospitals, she added, take only the “light, easy patients” and profitable diagnostics and surgeries, don’t have intensive care units (ICUs), don’t run teaching hospitals, and they don’t have to operate 24 hours a day.

“It would be a mortal blow to our health care system,” said Mehra, adding that Ontario’s health care system is currently facing the worst staffing shortages she’s ever seen.

“Today is the beginning of us really trying to lay bare for the public the increasingly worrisome plans of the Ford government in terms of privatizing vital health care services, which have been getting worse as the years have gone by.”

Ontario has learned a lesson about for-profit care during the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of outcomes at private long-term care facilities, she said.

“We only need to think about the last two years in long-term care in which more than 4,000 residents died. The death rates at private facilities were five times those of the publicly owned long-term care homes,” said Mehra.

“The chains with the worst records had nine deaths per every 100 residents and the municipal homes had 1.2 deaths per 100 residents.”

Reporters asked whether it was possible that Ontario’s health minister “simply misspoke” during the press conference as there has been no other indication that the province is considering the privatization of hospitals.

“Those words are very specific words. The minister has been around a long time – she was the health critic for a number of years. She knows the legislation very well,” said Mehra.

“Those are very carefully selected words. The plan that she was announcing there was the opening of surgeries and diagnostics in public hospitals while also dealing with a very significant load of COVID-19 patients.”

Mehra said she thinks the province wants to hand the surgeries over to independent health care facilities.

The OHC plans to make the privatization of health care an election issue and to hold an “emergency summit” in March to protest funding cuts.

Randy Robinson, the director of the Ontario office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives said that there has been no rationale put forward by the Ontario government for the move towards privatization.

“I have heard in long-term care some talk that the government doesn’t have access to capital so cannot invest in these new beds, but I think the pandemic has demonstrated clearly that that’s absurd,” he said.

“Ontario has the lowest health care funding of the provinces with the lowest hospital funding, the fewest hospital beds, and the fewest nurses.”

The province of Ontario was at its “richest” in 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a “remarkably tiny effect on the provincial budget, he added.

“What that means is we had more money in this province economically than we had when we created Medicare,” said Robinson.

“Ontario’s economic foundation is very strong. That’s my main point. And yet we continue to spend for less on public services than other provinces do.”

The Ontario Health Coalition and its regional partners will be hosting a Zoom summit on March 23 at 7 p.m. to oppose the privatization of the health care system.

Anyone interested in participating can contact the OHC at ohc@sympatico.ca.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

dmacdonald@postmedia.com

Twitter: @SudburyStar

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