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HomeWorld NewsHealthOntario isn't ruling out privatization in health care. Here's what that could...

Ontario isn’t ruling out privatization in health care. Here’s what that could look like

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Ontario’s Health Minister Sylvia Jones says Ontarians should not be afraid of innovation.

“We’ve done it well in the province of Ontario and I want to continue to encourage that innovation because it means at the end of the day, people are going to get better service. I don’t want the status quo.”

The minister’s comments come as the government says it’s considering various ways to deal with health-care staff shortages that have led to emergency departments across the province closing for hours or days at a time.

On Thursday, a day after she came under fire for refusing to rule out further privatization in the system, Jones emphasized Ontarians will not have to pay out of pocket for health-care services,

Access to health care through OHIP cards “is never going to change,” Jones said, in response to a question by Opposition NDP Leader Peter Tabuns in question period.

Tabuns asked if patients should start paying for the care they now receive as a right.

“No, no, no, OHIP cards are used in the province of Ontario to fund publicly funded health-care systems — that will continue under our watch,” Jones said 

However, Jones did not rule out — when asked — more of a role for private corporations to deliver public services, which already happens to some degree in Ontario’s system.

On Wednesday, when asked if there could be further privatization of the province’s health system, Jones said “all options are on the table.” 

What further privatization could look like 

Large parts of Ontario’s health-care system are already privatized, including many long-term care homes, as well as home care and nursing agencies.

Ontario already has private deliverers for health services, such as dental work, says Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. In these settings, she says people usually pay a premium to their insurance company to access these services.

WATCH | Privatization ‘opposite’ of solving Ontario’s ER crisis, doctor says: 

Privatization ‘opposite’ of solving Ontario’s ER crisis, doctor says

Toronto ER physician Dr. Lisa Salamon says the Ontario government should focus on supporting and retaining health-care workers instead of considering privatization to solve the province’s staffing crunch.

NDP health-care critic France Gélinas says expanding that further means Ontarians will have to pay more fees to continue accessing health services.

“You see the result in poor care, in barriers to access, and those will only multiply,” said Gélinas.

Some hospital emergency rooms have been closing throughout the summer as a result of the recent staffing shortages. Meanwhile, data from the College of Nurses show about 15,000 nurses licensed to work in Ontario aren’t currently practising. 

According to the NDP, Ontario has the lowest nurse-per-capita ratio in Canada at 665 registered nurses for every 100,000 people, and the lowest number of hospital beds per capita throughout all OECD countries.

Some hospitals have been relying on nurses from private agencies to fill in the staffing gaps, which Hoy says can pay them four times more than nurses in the public system.

“It is an abuse of health-care dollars and it is abuse of the people of Ontario because we’re the ones paying the bill,” said Hoy.

Gélinas says a privatized health-care system allows rich people to get care faster, but the “great majority” of Ontarians will wait even longer for care because staff will leave the public sector to work in the private sector instead.

Why are we not thinking that everybody should be equal, and your paycheque should not dictate whether you have the right to live or die?– Cathryn Hoy, Ontario Nurses’ Association

She also pointed toward the start of home-care and long-term care privatization in 1996, led by Conservative Premier Mike Harris, in a bid to do things “better, faster [and] cheaper.”

“Fast forward to 2022, would you say our home-care system is good? It fails more people than it helps every single day. Same thing with long-term care.”

The state of long-term care in Ontario was thrust in the spotlight at the onset of the pandemic, when in the first wave, experts found the province saw 78 per cent more deaths in people with COVID-19 in for-profit homes than in their public counterparts. 

Fixing the current system

Meanwhile, Ontario’s official opposition introduced its first motion of the session in Ontario’s legislature Thursday aimed at solving the province’s health-care staff shortage, and is calling on all members of government to support it regardless of party lines.

Tabuns says the motion calls for health-care recruitment and retention packages that include an end to public workers’ wage cap policy Bill 124, more raises, better working conditions and partnerships with unions like the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

“This health-care crisis is the worst we’ve seen in generations,” said Tabuns in a news conference Thursday. 

“But there are solutions, and solutions that don’t include privatizing a system that has to remain public.”

For her part, Hoy said she’s opposed to a privatized system. 

“Why is privatization so important to others? Why are we not working with the system that we have? Why are we not fixing it?” said Hoy.

“Why are we not thinking that everybody should be equal, and your paycheque should not dictate whether you have the right to live or die?”

Ontario NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns, health-care critic France Gélinas and Ontario Nurses’ Association president Cathryn Hoy want to fix Ontario’s existing health-care system without privatizing it further. (CBC Toronto)

For the past decade, Hoy says the union has been in talks with the province on how to improve the health-care system. While she says the health-care worker shortage didn’t happen overnight, it was worsened by the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of collective bargaining rights for nurses after the introduction of Bill 124 in 2019.

“We need a government that’s going to work with us, a government that wants to make change and invest monies where money should be invested,” said Hoy.

“It is a health crisis in Ontario, and we are putting patient care at risk because of the lack of nurses and health-care professionals to properly provide this care.”

‘Why are they leaving?’

Both the NDP and ONA called the current state of health care in the province a crisis, contrary to what Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones said earlier this week. 

Toronto ER physician Dr. Lisa Salamon says it’s “strange” Jones hasn’t declared the staff shortage a crisis, but is still looking at options like privatization to improve health care.

“What the government needs to focus on is really figuring out: why are they leaving?” said Salamon.

Salamon says instead of privatization, it should get internationally trained nurses and physicians licensed and into health-care settings faster and talk directly to the front-line workers who don’t feel supported in their work.

Jones has said the province is looking at how to get internationally trained nurses working in Ontario as quickly as possible.

“We already have people here in Canada who can’t afford medication, who can’t afford dental care, and these people often end up in the emergency department with serious issues,” said Salamon.

“I feel that if you start going that privatization route, it will just become a downward spiral.”

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