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‘The cuts are so draconian’

Posted: November 4, 2019

(October 28, 2019)

By: Jeffrey Ougler, The Sault Star

Provincial government promises to end hallway health care ring hollow — and upcoming rallies are geared to state this fact loud and clear, says Ontario Health Coalition.

On Monday, the group unveiled its plan for a rally at noon, Nov. 30, at Algoma University’s George Leach Centre — similar events are slated for Chatham, Toronto and Ottawa — to shine a light on cuts to Ontario health care and “save” the system.

“(Premier) Doug Ford actually ran his campaign promising more, not less, health-care services … Ontarians can’t actually accept less health-care services,” Natalie Mehra, Ontario Health Coalition executive director, told reporters Monday morning at a press conference at Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre.

Northern Ontario, especially Sault Ste. Marie, has been “particularly troubled” by long emergency department waits and “inadequate” numbers of long-term-care beds, Mehra said.

“Already services have been very centralized across giant regions in the North … Already, people have much (less) access to health-care issues than in southern Ontario,” she added.

“When you plan to centralize, which is made in Toronto by Toronto advisers, doesn’t work for southern Ontario, it’s much, much worse for Northern Ontario. We needed to come to the North for sure. This is where we can have a maximum political impact.”

Mehra pointed to sweeping changes to health care under the Ford government, which include the province consolidating 14 local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and several other agencies, into a new organization called Ontario Health.

She also tagged planned closures of 25 of 35 public health units and 49 of 59 local ambulance services.

“In this case, the cuts are so draconian,” Mehra said.

OHC contends the province has set overall health funding at less than the rate of inflation and population growth, let alone aging, and set public hospital funding at less than the rate of inflation. Funding for long-term care, daily care, is set at one per cent, which is about half the rate of inflation and equals “real dollar” cuts,” OHC says. And, although some cuts have been cancelled retroactively, there are no plans to ultimately halt them, Mehra said.

“They’re not stopped,” she added. “There’s no evidence to support the public health cuts. There’s no evidence to support the centralization of ambulance services — and even less so in Northern Ontario.”

Officials hope to get the word out about the rally via door-to-door visits, posters and setting up a campaign office. Volunteers are sought, as are donations, which would assist in the cost of transporting rural residents to the event.

“Nobody supports (health-care cuts) … It doesn’t matter who you voted for,” said Mehra, who describes OHC as non-partisan.

“We don’t tell people how to vote. We just tell the truth and try to protect health-care services for everybody.”

Monday’s event also heard from others who argue the province’s health-care system has let them — and all Ontarians — down.

James Kemp spent 34 years in corrections and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder “pretty badly” — so severely, he attempted to end his own life. Earlier, he called a Sault-based suicide prevention line and was told to call back because no one qualified was available to speak to him.

“It took a suicide attempt before I actually got help,” Kemp said.

He then called a psychologist to whom he was referred, but was then put on a six-month waiting list. He only got to see the specialist sooner because he knew her. For Kemp, it took six years of attending the hospital ER, calling help lines and addressing the matter with workplace officials, before more substantial assistance came his way.

He contends there are few, or no, specialists in Northern Ontario who deal specifically with PTSD.

“We don’t have the resources up here now,” he said. “If Ford makes the cuts that he’s planning on making, it’s going to be even worse and people are going to die.”

Jean Hershey, of Algoma Family Council Coalition, said of the chief problems plaguing long-term care is the profound burden placed on personal support workers.

“We recognize that PSWs are a concerned, compassionate and caring group, who are suffering because of the government’s lack of funding for long-term care,” said Hershey, adding that in Ontario, the PSW role is not regulated and has no training standardization.

“There is little to recommend it as a career opportunity,” she said.

Morgan Fiaschetti, Algoma co-ordinator for Ontario Autism Coalition, has seen health-care cuts far too close to home.

She related the shock of taking her son, 12, to the ER when he was engaging in behaviour that was “harming himself,” and was told to “go home.”

“The Ford government has cut service significantly to our children.”

Changes to “needs-based” funding is seeing dollars to families delayed, she said.

The province announced in the summer it would continue to fund autism services at $600 million annually to form a needs-based system parents and advocates favoured. But the April timeline is far too late, many argue.

“It’s a broken system,” Fiaschetti said. “The Ford government has failed us immensely.”

Pam Mancuso, Ontario Nurses Association Region 1 vice-president, said hallway health care is alive and well in the many facilities she has visited within her jurisdiction, which runs from North Bay to James Bay to the Manitoba border.

“Every cubbyhole, every alleyway, anything they can find that they can put a stretcher in and make a bed, that’s what they’re doing right now to try to accommodate the large numbers that are coming in emerge,” said the Sault-based registered nurse, adding cuts to community health services are often the culprit.

“Now, hospitals are becoming even more overcrowded because of that.”

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