The only good thing about Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives’ Bill 74, The People’s Health Care Act, is the name, says New Democrat Health critic France Gélinas.
The bill being slammed through the legislature in just weeks, said the Nickel Belt MPP, will change the province’s health care system more than any previous restructuring effort. It will reduce local decision-making in health care, eliminating the “voice” of northerners and other Ontarians, and open the door for the privatization of now publicly funded health care services, the NDP Health critic warned.
Gélinas was part of a panel that spoke at an Ontario Health Coalition Town Hall meeting Sunday at the Long Lake Legion, which drew about 40 people. Many shared their experiences with the health care system and their fears Ford’s health reforms will be bad medicine for them.
What's Bill 74?
Bill 74, for which limited public consultations were being held Monday and Tuesday, will merge 20 health care agencies into one super-agency called Ontario Health based in southern Ontario, said Gélinas. As well as amalgamating 14 Local Health Integration Networks, including the North East LHIN, it will merge Cancer Care Ontario and Trillium Gift of Life, the organization that oversees organ transplantation.
The board of directors for the super agency is comprised of members from southern Ontario, except for one lone northerner from North Bay, and most come from the financial sector, not the health care field, said the MPP.
The bill will affect every aspect of health care, said Gélinas – hospitals, long-term care homes, home and community services, mental health and additions programs, palliative care and primary care.
Thirty Ontario Health Teams will oversee health services in the province, 20 based in the Greater Toronto Area and only 20 in the rest of the province.
Worst of all, Ford’s health care reforms will eliminate one of the basic tenet of medicare, said Gélinas, that health care is based on need and not on people’s ability to pay.
Many programs and services now publicly funded and delivered will be farmed out to private companies looking to capitalize on the $62 billion spent on health care in Ontario annually.
Lobbyists are already lining up at Queen’s Park looking for a piece of that pie, she said.
Health care cuts
Sharon Richer, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, said her members are alarmed at the speed at which the bill is proceeding through the legislature. Gélinas agreed and said only 30 of 1,500 people who wanted to speak at the consultations will do so.
When the PC government of Mike Harris undertook massive restructuring of health care in the 1990s, including the amalgamation of Ontario hospitals, health care costs rose $3.2 billion a year, said Richer, charging that Bill 74 reforms won’t save money.
Michelle Beaudry is bargaining unit president for health care professionals at Health Sciences North. Her branch of Ontario Nurses Association Local 013 has more than 850 members and the nursing branch has 1,240.
The effects of health care cuts are already being felt at HSN, where 75 registered nursing positions, 38 other health care professionals and more than 30 CUPE members were cut.
Consolidation and privatization will result in fewer services and cost more, and ONA members won’t stand by and watch that, said Beaudry.
“We’re here to build a movement to hold the government accountable.”
Melissa Wood, co-chair of the Sudbury chapter of the OHC, connected OHC executive director Natalie Mehra by phone with the audience. Mehra said Ford promised last year to end hallway medicine and instead is implementing massive cuts to health services.
Bill 74 won’t add a single hospital bed, open one closed operating room or add one more doctor or nurse to the system, said Mehra. It is already singling out for privatization air ambulance service, nursing home inspections, public laboratories and other services now funded publicly.
The health reform act will give the province the authority to even privatize hospitals, said Mehra. She predicted Ford’s health reforms will cut services more than Harris’s did in the 1990s when more than 300 hospitals were merged into 140. Worse still, it will eliminate any public or local oversight of health services.
Audience members took to the microphone in the question-and-answer session to share their fears of how Bill 74 will affect them and their families. Tony Chezzi said his daughter, who is now 33, was born three months prematurely but her life was saved because of good hospital services. Without them, “she’d be dead and I’d be bankrupt.” He said it is time Ontarians’ “put politeness aside and held a general strike. It’s time to shut down the province.”
Gélinas said she has spoken with PC Health Minister Christine Elliott several times about how the bill will open the door to privatizing health services. Elliott’s refrain is that Ontarians will pay for health care “with their health cards, not their credit cards,” said Gélinas, but Tories don’t care who is providing the services.
Chris Cosby, a community legal worker diagnosed with terminal cancer, said when she and her husband married, they struggled to pay premiums for health care before the advent of medicare.
“There is nothing more Canadian than to believe in medicare,” said Cosby. “I just don’t accept those (PC) assurances that health care will not be cut.” She agreed a general strike by Ontarians “is a damned good idea.”
The OHC is not yet proposing a general strike, but it is planning a day of action at Queen’s Park on April 30 where as many as 10,000 Ontarians are expected to express their outrage about the PCs’ health reforms.
Veteran registered nurse Dot Klein is co-chair of the Sudbury chapter of the OHC, which is circulating a petition calling on Ford to restore “democracy” to health care and immediately stop jobs cuts at HSN and improve funding to match the rate of funding in other provinces.
As many as 7,000 people have signed the petition, said Klein, and dozens have signed up for a one-day bus to Toronto to take part in the April 30 rally.
“People really feel strongly about what’s happening and what’s going to happen” in health care, said Klein.
Dave Stewart, health and safety chair for Mine Mill Local 598/Unifor, has three family members who work at HSN and all are worried about losing their jobs. Stewart said he’s disgusted with the proposed health care reforms.
“It’s time to react. It’s time to push back because we’re going to pay more.”
Audience members were urged time and time again to “use their voices” to express their displeasure about health reforms any way they can.
Klein called on Sudburians “to get the fire in their bellies and get on our feet” and speak out against Bill 74.
To find out more about the petition and the April 30 bus trip to Queen’s Park, visit the Sudbury OHC chapter’s Facebook Page Ontario Health Coalition Sudbury Chapter or phone Wood at 705-662-8506.
Carol Mulligan is an award-winning reporter and one of Greater Sudbury’s most experienced journalists.