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Symbolism won’t save health care

Posted: May 18, 2016

(May 18, 2016)

By: Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

Ontario’s health-care system is on life support. It’s a little like a person who smoked and ate poorly his whole life and, upon learning he has cancer and a myriad of potentially fatal health problems, decides to begin pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Likely — sadly — it’s too late as the poisonous roots of disease and sickness run deep; the damage has been done.

In a way, that could be the diagnosis for our health-care system. And Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) is a microcosm of the plague. In 2008, the Community Tower — the focal point of an $86.6-million redevelopment and expansion project at the hospital — opened its doors amid much fanfare.

In 2012, OSMH’s then-CEO, Elisabeth Riley, upon accepting the final instalment of the County of Simcoe’s $10.5-million commitment to the project, spoke about the importance of the building. “What this tower allowed us to do was provide new services we didn’t even offer before,” Riley said, noting it allowed the hospital to offer both inpatient and outpatient mental-health and rehab services, a geriatric day hospital and complex continuing care to patients requiring long stays.

Last year, after four straight years of stagnant funding from the province, the hospital slashed staff and shuttered the geriatric day hospital. Last month, OSMH shut down its 16-bed complex continuing care program and eliminated 35 full-time-equivalent jobs. The deficit, officials said, is almost $6 million. In short, it’s a mess. First, the government approves and endorses expansion and redevelopment, green-lights much-needed community services, then refuses to fund them at appropriate levels, essentially forcing them to be closed. It has translated into angst and uncertainty among those who work in the hospital and it means many patients are not able to access the care they need.

Unfortunately, the situation is not unique to us, which is why the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is organizing a “grassroots” referendum in Orillia and 19 other communities to poll citizens about the status of health-care in this province. “We’re trying to put pressure on the government to give more funding to hospitals,” said Lynne Hancock, co-chair of OHC’s Orillia group.

Retired Orillia doctor Richard Johnston, who is also involved with the local group and is a passionate advocate of OSMH, said he fears Ontario is headed toward a two-tier system. “A lot of us see essential services being divested to private firms and taken away from hospitals,” he said, adding silence is not an option. “If you sit back and be … dispassionate in 15 years, there will be nothing.”

We applaud the OHC, a non-profit advocacy group, for its passion and for rallying support. But going into communities already decimated by cuts and garnering signatures is a bit of a fool’s game. Of course, everyone will agree and sign the pledge. Who wouldn’t lend their voice to such a campaign?

Nobody wants to see health-care cuts. But we need fewer platitudes and more answers. We need solutions. We need a rollback of the skyrocketing salaries of hospital executives and an accounting of their bloated administrations. We need to support front-line workers and ensure patient needs — not political talking points — are paramount in every decision made. Right now, that’s simply not happening.

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