Ahead of the June provincial election, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath laid out her party’s plans for change in the healthcare system in Timmins Tuesday.
“For too long families and seniors in Timmins and across the north have been forced to settle. They’ve been forced to settle for underfunding and overcrowding in their hospitals, cuts to healthcare, long, long wait times to get the kind of care you need,” said Horwath after touring the Timmins and District Hospital with CEO Blaise MacNeil and Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson.
She also talked about the NDP commitments for healthcare, including a moratorium on frontline layoffs, creating a ministry for mental health and addictions, and pharmacare.
MacNeil has said that for the 2018/19 budget year, the hospital is facing a $4.5 million deficit. The hospital is also going through the proposal process to get funding to renovate the emergency room.
According to Horwath, funding for the hospital hasn’t kept up with inflation.
“It’s totally unacceptable that a vital community hospital, one of the largest employers in Timmins, would be asked cut their budget year after year after year,” she said.
“At the same time, the decades-old infrastructure here is literally crumbling, and staff can’t keep up with the needed beds because the roof’s leaking, for example, and therefore they have to close beds that are necessary like the five maternity ward beds that had to close.”
She said the NDP has made commitments for hospitals.
"We will fund hospitals at a very minimum to cover off the cost of inflation, to deal with population growth ‘cause in some parts of the province that’s an issue, but also to acknowledge that communities are unique and the needs of communities are unique and so in this community, for example, where there are issues of aging population...we should be making sure we’re funding the hospital to be able to meet those needs of the local community,” she said.
She added that there would be a moratorium on "further frontline layoffs until we get a chance to put a full human resources plan in place so that we know we can operate the hospitals in a way that actually serves the patients.”
Lack of access to mental health services, particularly for youth and children, is also a priority.
“Mental health services continue to get put on a back burner and they just become the lost cousin of the health care system and we just cannot allow that to continue to happen,” said Horwath.
The NDP has plans for a mental health and addiction services ministry, which she said would “help us get a handle on the mental health and addiction needs of the people of Ontario.”
Another focus of healthcare is establishing a pharmacare system so everyone can access prescription drugs.
“There is no way, no reason, that people should be going to the hospital or the doctor, getting a prescription and then knowing they can’t afford it, putting that prescription in their pocket and walking away. That shouldn’t be happening in our province,” she said.
Horwath didn’t elaborate on where the money for the commitments would come from, but said it comes down to priorities.
“The reality is it’s all about priorities and I have to say that we can no longer go forward with the cutbacks that we’ve seen in our hospital system. People expect some of the basic, fundamental services to be provided by government, healthcare is the priority for everyone,” she said.
“If that’s a major priority for folks, then it should be a major priority for government.”