Last month, Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and MPP France Gélinas – Health Care Critic and Chief Opposition Whip, joined the Ontario Health Coalition and thousands of concerned Ontarians outside Queen’s Park to protest looming cuts to health care by the Ford government. The rally was organized by The Ontario Health Coalition with citizens from across the province making their way to the grounds outside the Provincial Legislature.
Over 100 buses unloaded passengers eager to have their collective voices heard. Senior’s Groups, faith groups, union representatives, social justice organizations, health care workers including doctors, nurses, personal support workers, anti-poverty organizations and more marched up University Avenue in Toronto to Queen’s Park in an effort to send a united message to the Ford government.
“Families who have been forced to watch loved ones suffer in hospital hallways while waiting for treatment, or who have to scrape their savings together to pay for take-home cancer medication — they know that every cut to health care makes their lives a little bit harder,” said Andrea Horwath.
Ontario has the fewest hospital beds to population and the fewest staff of any province in Canada or country with a developed economy. Hospitals have created makeshift beds in tub rooms, solariums and hallways to deal with the lack of available beds. Many patients wind up treated for days on uncomfortable stretchers outside emergency rooms, in conditions without privacy or dignity. CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) estimates that 8,400 permanent beds need to be added so that patients get the care they require.
“The Minister of Health has already begun to warn hospitals that they will have to prepare for even more cuts.” she said. “Doug Ford has already cut $10 million from flu surge funding, and $330 million per year from mental health supports and services. A new ‘realignment’ of health care programs threatens to bring even more cuts and layoffs, with many concerned that it will mirror the last Conservative government’s cuts, which saw 28 hospitals closed, and more than 6,000 nurses laid off across the province.”
“Families want to know that when a loved one needs to visit the hospital, they won’t be stuck in a hallway. They need to know that a long-term-care bed will be there for an aging parent. And they deserve to feel confident that they’ll be able to get the drugs they need when they’re sick, without having to rack up credit card bills. Instead, Doug Ford is promising over $6 billion in cuts, and hinting that he’s going to privatize parts of health care,” said Horwath.
“A ‘mini-budget’ as it has been termed and released by Ontario’s Finance Minister Vic Fedelli last week (November 16), contains lots of goodies for corporations while putting public services at risk.” said Ontario Health Coalition Executive Director Natalie Mehra.
“For corporations there are an array of tax cuts and exemptions, reduced employment standards, and plans for deregulation which the Ford government refers to as ‘red tape’, but which covers public interest protections and all regulations for all industries including long-term care.” Mehra stated.
“For health care so far there are the cuts that have already happened, though they are not transparently reported and no details on what to expect going forward except for more tax cuts that will reduce revenues available to fund health care and reviews of all government regulations and all public agencies, including regulations and agencies in health care.”
- Cut the expansion of OHIP+ so that those with private plans will no longer be covered and will face deductibles and co-payments that can cost hundreds of dollars a month (for a family with a child with cancer, for example).
- Announced their mental health funding package but neglected to note that it amounts to a more than $330 million cut from what the Liberals had passed in the 2018 budget. (Note: the Ford mental health funding is exactly the amount that the federal government is transferring to Ontario for mental health so there is no actual increase in Ontario’s investment in mental health.)
- May have cut the surge/extra beds dealing with overcrowding for hospitals. OHC has not been able to get clear answers on this.
- Cancelled all new safe injection sites, despite the fact that opioid deaths in Ontario and Canada have reached record levels. In our province alone, they have increased by 245 percent from 2003 – 2017. In 2017 4,000 Canadians died from overdose, 1,200 of them in Ontario. Supervised drug injection sites have already gone through grueling approval processes at both the federal and provincial levels, but will now have to jump through further hoops under the Ontario PC government’s revised approach.
- Re-announcements of the OHIP+ and mental health cuts (without saying that they are cuts).
- Re-announcement of 6,000 new long-term care beds. (Note: 5,000 of the 6,000 were already started under the Liberals last year.) While this is positive, OHC is concerned because the Conservatives have represented the interests of the for-profit long-term care sector in government and in opposition and we expect that they will try to privatize the vast majority of any new long-term care capacity rather than building it in the public non-profit sectors which operate in the public interest. Already, it is reported that the deadlines given for applying for the new beds have been set so that it is impossible for municipalities and very difficult for non-profits to meet them. Essentially, this is stacking the bidding process in such a way as to benefit the for-profit and corporate long-term care homes, potentially ensuring that any new beds will not be public and non-profit.
- Re-announcement of the hospital surge beds.As Ontario’s already overcrowded hospitals hit the fall flu season, a PC government announcement that slashes surge beds and funding by more than half, is “deceptive, misleading and very concerning”, said Michael Hurley president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions in a press release. Last winter the predecessor Liberals announced $187 million for 2018-2019 about 1200 beds and other spaces to deal with patient surges during the flu season. Today Premier Ford’s government cut that funding to $90 million and just 640 beds and spaces.
- Re-announcement of the renaming and redirection of the approach to addictions and the opioid crisis (without explicit admission that the new and planned safe injection sites are all cancelled).
- Re-announcement that they have axed the Self-directed Personal Support Worker agency.
- New information on an expansion of the exemption for the Employer Health Tax and cancellation of the Liberals’ proposal in the 2018 budget to target the exemption more carefully. The OHC had called for eliminating the exemption which would generate billions of dollars per year and make the tax fairer.
- Announcement of a review of all government agencies. In Health Care this includes: LHINs, Boards of Management, the Health Services Review and Appeal Board, Health Unit Boards, Cancer Care Ontario, Health Quality Ontario and others.