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Hospital workers rally against Ford

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The Ford government campaigned on a promise to end hallway medicine, but reduced investments in the health care system have caused local advocates to sound the alarm.

There's a growing gap between the amount of funding the health care system receives and the amount required for it to operate as is, according to Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) president Michael Hurley who spoke at the community rally hosted outside of La Verendrye Hospital last Wednesday.

“Using the government's financial projections, they will have to cut $8 billion from health care spending by 2023-24,” he said.

“At the same time as this you've got a population that's growing—throughout 10 years it will grow by 30 percent—and it's aging.”

As the population grows over the next decade, the number of Canadians over age 75 will also double, those over 85 will triple, and people over 90 will quadruple, Hurley noted.

“It's a system that already desperately requires investments just to have the capacity to meet the demographic challenge,” he remarked.

“You'd think that we were actually facing some sort of a demographic downturn, a population that's getting younger, healthier, and getting smaller but we're not-we're getting bigger.”

“There's going to be a huge withdrawal of funding so it means that these facilities will be cutting beds and staff,” Hurley added.

Locally, it has been projected that there will be five less beds at hospitals throughout the district and 45 less staff.

System wide around 2,000 beds will be lost, Hurley warned.

Meanwhile, it's estimated that Ontario would need an additional 4,352 beds to meet the Canada-wide average of 2.5 beds per 1,000 people.

The province has the fewest beds to population for a country with a developed economy and has the shortest lengths of stay.

Staffing in Ontario is already 21 percent less on average than other hospitals throughout Canada, and an additional 45,000 workers would need to be hired to fill the gap.

The province also has the lowest health care program spending per capita in the country, disbursing about $2,000 less per person on average each year.

“You have to be much sicker than you were 15 years ago [to stay at the hospital], so acuity levels rise, and the cost of treating the patients rise with the acuity level,” Hurley said.

Health care workers and advocates are also concerned about documents leaked in January from the Ministry of Health that reveal certain health services are slated for privatization.

This includes: air ambulance, hospital labs, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), medical records, supply chain, nursing home inspections, and back office services such as housekeeping, laundry, and food services.

“This government is very sympathetic to the large corporate interests, the large nursing home corporations, the large pharmaceutical companies, they have a lot of influence with this government,” Hurley charged.

CUPE Local 4807 vice-president Corrine Webb, who helped host and spoke at the community rally, said privatization of any health services boosts costs and reduces patient care, while increasing the financial burden for municipalities.

“It leads to upheaval and instability to a workforce that's already stretched to the max," she stressed. "It leads to loss of local services and closure of small and rural  hospitals.”

Hurley said if the health care cuts continue as planned Ontario could relive the Harris government days where only 0.3 percent was invested on average in health care, compared to the one percent average the Ford government's investing over the next five years.

The result of the Harris government's lack of investments resulted in thousands of health workers losing their jobs and hospitals being shut down due to cuts and reduced investments in the system.

“Their was an enormous capacity crisis, so here the Harris government actually had to increase hospital [spending] by 15 percent in one year," Hurley remarked. "This is a policy that isn't successful.”

“The reality is that this province doesn't support its hospital system properly with enough staff and beds currently and as the population ages and grows that pressure intensifies,” he added.

Another area of focus during the community rally was educating folks on the restructuring of healthcare services for hospitals, long term care homes, home care, community mental health, cancer care, labs, and air ambulance.

“It dismantles the 14 Local Health Integration Networks, Cancer Care Ontario and other agencies, and creates a new 'Super Agency' with unprecedented powers along with the Minister of Health with regard to funding health services, facilitating integration of services, and directing services as they see fit,” Webb stressed.

The ministry can now merge health care providers, transfer services between providers or towns, and even reduce or eliminate services, she added.

“There is absolutely no requirement in this legislation for public consultation,” Webb noted.

Her daughter, Janine Webb, who is a registered nurse and the bargaining unit president of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) Local 81, said the health care system is already struggling to provide adequate care and Bill 78 will make matters worse.

“Health-care reform is not a plan at all—it's a wrecking ball,” she charged.

“He is breaking our health care system apart with no idea about what should come next, leaving hard details for everyone else to figure out,” added Webb.

“This chaotic overhaul of health care is going to take years, cost millions, and there's no guarantee that it will add one single hour of direct care or any of the skilled caregivers who are needed so urgently,” she added.

In June, the ONA launched a province-wide campaign called “Priorities and Promises" to call out the Ford government's "shot in the dark” approach to health care reform and urges the public to voice their opposition.

“For health care professionals, the 'people of Ontario' are not a catchphrase," Corrine Webb said. ”We take care of them everyday, in their homes and communities, in schools, clinics, and hospitals, in overcrowded emergency rooms and far too often in hallways and even storage rooms.

“We choose this work and we keep doing it because we love it and because the people of Ontario are counting on us,” she added.

“Doug Ford's government is starving the health care system of adequate funding and nurses are already seeing layoffs and job losses in their workplaces.”

Part of the health care restructuring also includes cutting ambulance services down from 59 to 10.

And while the government did increase health spending by 1.8 percent, the doctor's settlement took up a majority of it, leaving little to cover the rising costs of medical technologies, doctors salaries, and impatient drugs.

Some of the cuts to date include removing OHIP+ so families with sick children have to seek private coverage first, pay deductibles, and co-payments.

Public Health Units will drop from 35 to 10 and be cut by 27 percent or $200 million, of provincial funding for public health.

As well, more than $330 million is being cut from mental health funding and all new overdose prevention sites have been cancelled, while funding has been cut for six of the current sites.

The province has also cut $5 million in annual stem sell research funding at the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and $22 million from cancer screening programs.

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