Yesterday, four thousand workers, anti-poverty advocates, and retirees rallied in Toronto in support of maintaining a strong and accessible public healthcare system.
The ‘Rebuild and Improve Public Health Care’ rally was hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). It was organized in response to the expected cuts to healthcare and looming privatization likely to come from the Doug Ford government.
Privatization of healthcare
Despite Ford’s campaign promise to end hallway medicine, the Ontario government has taken little action to solve the crisis of overcrowding, gaps in coverage, and long wait times in hospitals across the province.
The premier has instead made cuts to healthcare services, including cutting OHIP+, as well as cancelling $377 million in funding for mental health.
Ford’s proposal to cut $22 billion dollars from provincial revenues exceeds the cuts from the Harris government in the 1990’s, which saw $15 billion dollars cut between 1999-2002. The Harris government achieved this through the closure of over 40 hospitals, mass amalgamations, and the privatization of services.
Ford has appointed Rueben Devlin, former CEO of Humber River Hospital and former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party president as the Chair of the Premier’s Council on “Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine”. Given Devlin’s history, Ontario is likely to see an increase in hospital closures and public private partnerships (P3s), which transfer public control over services and infrastructure to the private sector.
Over the past few decades, hospitals have been continually downsized in the province, with Ontario having the fewest RN’s and RBN’s per patient and lowest public hospital funding in Canada.
Eric Witvoet, President of CUPE Local 145, which represents long term care workers said: “Ford’s agenda means layoffs and a reduction in healthcare services provided to our community. The cuts over the past decade have led to stress – more work for fewer people, which has a residual negative impact on the provision of healthcare.”
There are several negative impacts of privatization on healthcare workers . These include short staffing, increase in workplace violence, and erosion in the quality of care.
Julius, Keith and Mark, CUPE Local 1033 members and nurses at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph, described how cuts to healthcare will negatively impact nurses: “We’re already currently short staffed; by making more cuts it’s putting patient safety in jeopardy, and making it harder for us to do our jobs.”
Nurses across the province are facing similar conditions; in Kingston, Marlee Duncan and Randy Beaulieu are RN’s at Providence Care Hospital:
“We’re constantly seeing cuts and working short. We’re here to rally for a better healthcare system – to decrease our workload and protect our patients,” said Beaulieu.
“I’m on a palliative care unit, and being able to support our patient and the family is crucial. Continuing to increase our workload is giving us less time to provide patients adequate care through this process,” said Duncan.
According to a recent report by the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, (OCHU), the proposals that the Ford government has put forward would result in thousands of lost hospital beds and between 8,560 to 16,418 lost jobs.
Michael Hurley, President of the OCHU said, “This government’s fiscal plans collide sharply with healthcare funding and we expect the closure of 3,000 hospital beds by the time the dust settles unless we push back hard. That is what we are firmly committed to do.”
Among the list of demands of both the OHC and OCHU is an increase in annual funding by 5.3% over the next four years, a need to address overcrowding through ending hospital closures and reopening wards, labs, and clinics. Further, frontline healthcare workers are calling for an end to P3’s, investment in continuing care and long-term care beds, and the development of a capacity plan to meet the needs of patients.
Decent work, decent health
Among the attendees on Tuesday were advocates from the Decent Work and Health Network, (DWHN) a group of frontline health workers and trainees involved in advocating for better health through addressing employment conditions in Ontario. The group has been active in the $15 and Fairness campaign and fight to protect Bill 148. Dr. Jesse McLaren, an Emergency Physician involved with the DWHN said:
“We see any move against Bill 148 as a move against health. Only by restoring public healthcare funding and supporting social determinants of health like income equality and easier unionization can we ensure a healthy population”.
With yesterday’s decision to repeal Bill 148, workers will lose paid sick days, personal emergency leave days, health and safety protections, and fair scheduling, all which benefit the health of workers. This regressive decision will only worsen the issues of overwork, hallway medicine, lack of safe staffing, and workplace violence.
“For us, the conditions of care are the conditions of work. The truth is a hospital can run without a CEO for weeks, but it cannot function without the cleaners, the porters, the patient record keepers and the food services workers,” says OHC President Natalie Mehra. “They’re vital to patient care. To devalue them and continue to increase their workload and have so few people have to provide services for so many is dangerous.”