Ontario Health Coalition makes Public Health care front and centre in upcoming Bi-Election

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On Thursday evening, March 2nd, 2017, the hall at Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 25 held a good sized turn-out of citizens from Sault Ste. Marie & area united in one cause – Public Healthcare. Public Healthcare accessible to all Ontario residents – not mired in a system where privatization continues to chip away at the core values of The Canada Health Act.

The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), together with the Sault Ste. Marie & District Health Coalition hosted a gathering that included guest speakers, Natalie Mehra, OHC Executive Director; Margo Dale, Chair – Sault & Area Health Coalition; Sarah Labelle, OPSEU’s Regional Vice President (Region 3);Susan McCooeye, Chair Seniors Rights Protection Council;, Dale Lutes, and Peter DeLuca, SSM Health Coalition member.

Ontario Health Coalition brought the ‘We Can’t Bear to Lose Medicare’ campaign mascot to The Sault. Natalie Mehra spoke about protecting public care in the province and across Canada. Mehra said, “Under the Canada Health Act, we all have the right to health care on equitable terms and conditions. That means that everyone in the country should have access to health care that is needed – based on their medical need – not based on how wealthy they are. It’s the cornerstone principle of public Medicare. In addition, physicians and clinic owners, are forbidden from extra billing patients. They cannot bill patents for medically necessary services and procedures. Private sector clinics, in all sectors of health care, have been lobbying for billing patients. Their funding model is to maximize profits.” she said.  “Bill OHIP for services, WSIB, third party Insurance companies (for example), and on top of that, they want to bill citizens as well. Private clinics have started to move in as provincial governments have closed down public, not-for-profit health care services. Patients don’t stop needing the services.” she said.

“The reason they (private clinics) provide services, fundamentally changes the principles for health care delivery.”

Mehra demonstrated ‘jumping the cue’ with 6 volunteer attendees, in a scenario where an MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) is required – from the neediest patient to the least. A wealthy patient, whose need may or may not be high, can simply jump the line and pay whatever amount of money a private clinic’s going rate for an MRI is. And those rates can change depending on factors like ‘turn-around time for results of the MRI.

Mehra stated that when the MRI is defined as a ‘commodity’, we are entering privatization.

“A two-tiered health care system does not reduce medical need for those who require services.”

In a 2002 Report, (The Health of Canadians – The Federal Role) The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, looking into the Canada Health Act stated:

‘Continued access to quality health care without financial or other barriers will be critical to maintaining and improving the health and well-being of Canadians.

As well, section 3 of the Act provides that the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is: to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.’ (sencanada.ca)

The Canada Health Act

The five principles of the Canada Health Act, namely:

  •         The principle of universality, which means that public health care insurance must be provided to all Canadians;
  •         The principle of comprehensiveness, which is meant to guarantee that all medically necessary hospital and doctor services are covered by public health care insurance;
  •         The principle of accessibility, which means that financial barriers to the provision of publicly funded health services, such as user charges, are discouraged, so that needed care is available to all Canadians regardless of their income;
  •         The principle of portability, which means that all Canadians are covered under public health care insurance, even when they travel within Canada or move from one province to another.
  •         The principle of public administration, which means that hospital and doctor services are publicly funded through a single payer insurance system. (This principle refers to the funding of hospital and doctor services, not to the delivery of those services.)

Sarah Labelle, OPSEU Regional Vice-President, Region 3, is a medical laboratory technologist with over 17 years experience in health care. Labelle is Chair of OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division, representing over 20,000 health care professionals.

Labelle spoke about ‘the privatization zombie’ – the chronic underfunding of hospitals, as an intentional plan (by the Ontario government) to force privatization of services. When services are at risk of privatization, peoples’ lives are put at risk.” she said.

“Over 20 years, there has been a pathological obsession with some of our politicians, towards health care privatization.”

Labelle further shared that the pressure to discharge patients from hospitals is extreme. She has seen this in the hospital where she works in southern Ontario,  Lakeridge Health. “An emergency crisis team had to be formed in January (2017) at Lakeridge Health to deal with the fact that 40 people were waiting for beds.”

Labelle shared that she was encouraged when Ron Gagnon, President & CEO of Sault Area Hospital (SAH), came out and spoke publically about over-crowding in SAH. “To his credit, he stated that there are people waiting for days on stretchers – waiting for beds that are not available.”

“For a population of 75,000, there is no reason that the province cannot provide adequate funding for the level of care required for SAH. In a province like Ontario, there is plenty of money for P3’s. The (Ontario) Auditor General’s report showed that.” shared Labelle.

“In a P3 hospital, they will throw money at the infrastructure  –  into  the bricks and mortar, but they will not invest in the beds and the people that are required to provide the services – the level of care needed.”

In the Annual Report, 2014, Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s Auditor General stated, ‘Public-private partnerships (P3’s) have cost Ontario taxpayers nearly $8-billion more on infrastructure over the past nine years than if the government had successfully built the projects itself.’ (www.auditor.on.ca)

In her 2016 annual report, Lysyk stated, ‘One in 10 people who go to an Ontario emergency room has a condition serious enough to be admitted to hospital, but these patients wait excessive periods of time in the emergency room after admission before being transferred to intensive-care or other acute-care wards.’

“The people own the hospitals. They should have the services that go along with that infrastructure. Make health care a front and centre issue in the upcoming Sault bi-election and the provincial election in 2018.” said Labelle.

Local provincial candidates, Ross Romano (PC) and Joe Krmpotich (NDP) attended the OHC gathering. The local health coalition will be hosting an all-candidates meeting on health care after the provincial liberal candidate is selected, leading into a Sault bi-election.

Information was shared by Susan McCooeye, Chair Seniors Rights Protection Council, (Sault Ste. Marie) who spoke about long-term care in the district of Algoma, including lengthy wait lists for admission to long-term care.

“There are currently, at this moment, 598 people awaiting placement in a long-term care facility in our area. And there are 1033 beds.” she said. “The wait (for a bed) can be over two years, unless there is a deteriorating health condition that requires a person to leap-frog over the line.”

Peter DeLuca, (Sault & Area Health Coalition) shared stories of people from the district where accessibility to health care has caused significant challenges in their lives and the lives of families. The real-life stories paint a gloomy picture of a local health care system stretched beyond its capacity.

Dale Lutes (retired high school teacher) spoke about home care, and the escalating crisis in the sector of home care services. Lutes moved back to Sault Ste. Marie from Toronto, to help care for her sister, Anita Lutes and her elderly mother. Dale  has witnessed the significant challenges brought on when a medically fragile person requires a level of care where professional support is absolutely needed, and the costs associated with an increasingly privatized home care sector becomes the norm for accessing services.

“When you have workers in your home, it becomes a ‘hospital-home’. More safeguards, dignity, continuity and care plans are required throughout the system.” Lutes shared a story where a treasured item she received from her (late) father went missing.

“We should be afforded these basic rights. The problem is organizational – it’s systemic, and I have a feeling that by the dismantling of the CCAC’s (Community Care Access Centres) things are going to get worse.”

“The importance of home care cannot be overstated.” concluded Lutes. “This is about all of our loved ones.”

To learn more about Ontario Health Coalition’s ‘We Can’t Bear to Lose Medicare’ Campaign, visit:www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca

Information Tables were set along the perimeter of the Legion hall, including:
F.J. Davey Home Family Council – Barb Agonis and Patty Frost.
Algoma Family Council Coalition – Myra Piirtoniemi and Jean Hershey.
WeOwnIt.ca –
Seniors Rights Protection Council –
CARP
Sault & Area Health Coalition – Marie DellaVedova with Folgo DellaVedova (past president) as M.C. for the evening.
SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees)