Updated: coalition blasts private health care; minister’s office fires back
Posted: April 2, 2022
(March 31, 2022)
By: Luke Hendry, The Intelligencer
PHOTO BY LUKE HENDRY
Ontarians must press all political parties to choose public health care over privatization, advocates said during a Quinte-Northumberland summit on the topic.
Thursday night’s online meeting was organized by the Northumberland Health Coalition – a branch of the Ontario Health Coalition – in partnership with labour and health organizations in that county and the Quinte region.
Though speakers critiqued the current Progressive Conservative government, Northumberland coalition chair Linda Mackenzie-Nicholas of Port Hope said advocates want all parties to support a wholly public health care system.
“We want to see some improvements in publicly-funded and delivered health care,” Mackenzie-Nicholas said in a pre-summit telephone interview.
Organizers said the government plans to expand private, for-profit health clinics and hospitals and allocate more than 18,000 long-term care beds to for-profit companies.
But in a statement Friday, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott’s press secretary, Alexandra Hilkene, refuted some of the coalition’s claims and said the group was interpreting incorrectly a comment by Elliott.
“Claims that the government is looking to allow more for-profit health care in Ontario (are) categorically false,” Hilkene wrote. She added the government “is committed to supporting the province’s public health care system and has increased health care spending more than any other Ontario government to date.
“The use or function of private hospitals and independent health facilities in Ontario is not being expanded or changed,” Hilkene wrote.
The coalition has claimed Elliott’s remark two months ago, as she spoke about the return to non-urgent surgery, is proof of a privatization plan by the government. She said the government was “making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate” and made reference to “private hospitals.”
Hilkene said the coalition “is completely misrepresenting” Elliott’s statement.
“She was listing facilities that were able to gradually resume non-urgent procedures, such as pediatric hospitals, independent health facilities and private hospitals.
“She did not ever suggest letting independent health facilities operate private hospitals – in fact that is not even feasible,” wrote Hilkene. She added there are now four private hospitals licensed to operate in Ontario compared to 19 in 1980 and the last licence was issued in 1973.
Public care cheaper: coalition
Thursday’s online summit session drew a total of about 60 speakers and viewers.
The moderator was Trenton’s Marg Bourgoin, president of the Quinte Labour Council and an executive member of the Service Employees International Union’s healthcare branch.
Retired registered nurse Ross Sutherland of Sydenham, north of Kingston, chairs the Ontario Health Coalition. He’s a South Frontenac Township councillor, former NDP candidate, and author of the 2011 book False Positive: Private Profit in Canada’s Medical Laboratories (Fernwood Publishing).
“Ownership matters,” Sutherland said.
“For-profit provision costs more, negatively affects the public delivery of health care, decreases quality, provides unequal access, and limits democracy.”
Minister Elliott said in a March 7 Belleville news conference there’s a need for non- and for-profit long-term care.
“It’s all funded appropriately, and so we believe there’s a mixture for both,” she said, adding Ontario “would be in a very bad situation right now” if private long-term care were to end. She cited a waiting list of more than 30,000 people.
“I think what the government is saying is they may have to pay more if we use the public system,” Sutherland countered.
“It’s much cheaper if we just work with a public system.”
He said public providers are more transparent.
“We do not know how safe these companies are, yet we are getting play-by-play updates on the safety of public hospitals.
“Home care’s a complete mess … probably the most disastrous of all the parts of health care, in a way,” he said, criticizing the competitive bidding and more.
“It just doesn’t work for anyone who wants to stay home.”
Sutherland said his research on labs found private firms lobbied against public hospital labs, undermined integration, and used their influence to disrupt the operation of non-profit operations.
He also quoted a 2020 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“For-profit status is associated with the extent of an outbreak of COVID-19 in LTC homes and the number of resident deaths, but not the likelihood of outbreaks,” the researchers wrote.
Ontario grants 30-year contracts to operators, he said, and “the same money” goes to private and public organizations.
“You may as well give it to the place where you’re getting the best care.”
Sutherland disputed the private sector’s claims of reinvestment.
“The point is in the last 30 years they haven’t used any of their money to reinvest in the system, saying the lack of such investment – such as by creating rooms with fewer beds – fuelled COVID-19 outbreaks.
“What they have done out is taken out literally billions of dollars and paid it to their private shareholders
“The United States – the most privatized, developed health system – spends 25 per cent more per person on health care than the next-most-expensive country.”
Medical laboratory technologist Sara Labelle has spent much of the pandemic testing patient samples for COVID-19.
“The cost of privatization is death,” she said, again pointing to deaths in long-term care.
“This really is about pulling resources away from a public model into a for-profit model where people will eventually have to pay user fees.”
She said the health sector already lacks resources and should be a key issue in June’s provincial election.
“Ontario’s health care system is on the brink of collapse,” added D.J. Sanderson, a regional vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Assoc. regional vice-president D.J. Sanderson and a registered nurse.
He said hospitals face an “unmanageable, unprecedented surgical backlog.”
Privatization will “make the staff shortages worse,” said Sanderson.
He said there has been a “slow creep” of allowing more services to be provided by for-profit providers.
“These folks have deep pockets and they make deep, deep contributions to these political parties,” Sanderson said.
Campbellford resident Kim McArthur-Jackson, a co-chair of the Northumberland Social Justice Coalition, said care must be “well-funded and universally accessible” to all Ontarians.
She added public and private providers order the same supplies, etc., which could allow suppliers to hike prices “because they know they can.
One participant in the meeting asked how private providers recruit professionals, which speakers said hurts the public system.
The nurses’ association’s Sanderson said people working in private clinics, for example, may be able to focus on their preferred forms of care.
For doctors, coalition chairperson Sutherland said, “It’s incredibly lucrative. They work on fee-for-service.”
Providers sometimes “charge their patients for services that are not essential,” he said.
Nurses may choose private care because the shifts are those of a typical work week, not the longer, irregular shift work seen in the public system.
Linda Mackenzie-Nicholas of the Northumberland Health Coalition called upon listeners to help raise awareness of the issues.
Two years into the pandemic, she said, “Very little has been done to resolve the very real problems we saw” in health care.
She asked people to donate to the Ontario coalition, volunteer, and post signs and vehicle decals to be distributed by the coalition. She emphasized the need for individual donations, noting third-party groups, such as unions and businesses, are prohibited by law from donating.