Health Coalition: Ford government still falling far short

Wednesday’s announcement by the Ontario government that it will provide $2.8 million to fund continued access to primary care services drew some derision during an Ontario Health Coalition protest at Roberta Bondar Pavilion, yesterday.

The funding is to support a new Group Health Centre (GHC) outpatient clinic, called the Access Care Clinic (ACC).

The clinic is meant to ensure continued access for up to 11,200 GHC patients who lost access to their PCP on or after May 31, 2024. 

Led by nurse practitioners, this clinic will provide primary care services such as urgent care, episodic care, chronic disease symptom management, and prescription maintenance. It will also facilitate ongoing referrals and ensure uninterrupted access to GHC’s programs and services. Patients will continue to have access to the GHC Electronic Medical Records, which houses their medical history.

But while acknowledging the outpatient clinic represents a short-term solution, the OHC made it clear Thursday the province could be doing a lot more to address healthcare issues in the Sault and across the province.

“It’s interesting that they’re putting $1 billion to put beer in corner stores but they  only came up with $2.8 million to put into healthcare, as a temporary solution,” said Michele McCleave-Kennedy, an executive member of the Sault Ste. Marie District Labour Council. “These people will be with nurse practitioners that’s already available at Group Health Centre. It will be interesting to see how it rolls out but let’s hope that it at least helps those people stay out of the ER.”

Algoma Health Coalition representative Albert Dupuis, one of three featured speakers at Thursday’s protest, employed some different math but his comments echoed McCleave-Kennedy’s. 

“We’re happy that there’s kind of a solution here,” Dupuis told the gathering of about 200 people. “At least those people that have been waiting, many in precarious health for months, didn’t know where they were going to get their primary healthcare because it was going away for them, the records and all. 

“The fiscal accountability office points out that we spend about $15 million less than our peers.” told the gathering. “But our heroes came to the rescue yesterday. Ten thousand seniors were de-rostered in January,” Dupuis continued.

“So he comes up with $2.8 million. Let’s put that in perspective. Fifteen billion dollars is missing from Ontario’s spending on healthcare and he comes up with – after four months – he comes up with $2.8 million. Bravo, Ross.”

Dupuis says Ontario has the resources to fix its healthcare problems, but it’s choosing not to.

The protest was organized to draw attention to what the OHC views as the greatest threat to public healthcare – privatization.

“They’re saying that they’re going to hire doctors and this is just a stop gap, well let’s hope that it is,” says McCleave-Kennedy. “Let’s hope that this actually gets put in place and we get doctors coming to Sault Ste. Marie but I think the announcement was certainly timely.

We had 300 people at the last rally at Ross Romano’s office and now here are together again today and you’re seeing more folks out here, frustrated with what’s happening in public healthcare. We need to keep public healthcare, public. People should not be paying to go to a clinic or paying for service.”

Speaker Sara Labelle is a medical laboratory technologist at Lakeridge Health and chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s Hospital Professionals Division, which represents over 30,000 health care professionals across the province.

Labelle’s address centred on an underfunded and overworked public health care workforce. Labelle says the current system is being set up to fail.

“Politicians making political choices in order to siphon public funds out of public healthcare and deliver it in a private system that costs more or introduces user fees for the people that need access to services,” says Labelle. “This is intentional. They are allowing it to collapse and fall apart so that they can then justify giving it to the public sector, where people can reap massive profits off of the ill and the dying.”

Labelle says it’s imperative that the province invest in a workforce that enabled Ontario to handle the recent Covid pandemic.

“Workers were the ones who propped up the public healthcare system during the pandemic,” she says. “They were the only reason why we were able to deliver services.

“The workforce is your best asset in healthcare. It’s not the physical buildings. You can’t open more (Operating Room) time if you don’t have the people that can provide diagnostics and the bedside care.”

Investing in the workers would address recruitment and retention, says Labelle.

“If you brought in more workers to do the work. It would mean we could clear up backlogs of diagnostics and surgeries. It would mean that we would get people access to the mental health services that they need, faster. Right now, for children’s mental health, in order to get access to services, you’re looking at a two-year-plus waiting list at a time when people really need the assistance.

“You either address it now, by investing now on the front end or addressing it later through access to other social services,” says Labelle. Invest in workers to deliver the services. That would go a long way toward solving the healthcare crisis.”

Burnie Thorp, President of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, also spoke to the crowd, Thursday. Thorp told the gathering the province has been sitting on their hands.

“There are provisions under the Canada Health Act that they are adhering to, but they seem to not be enforcing (the Act) for user fees, extra billing and a fee to actually access healthcare,” said Thorp. “They’re turning a blind eye in some cases.”

McCleave-Kennedy says the OHC is determined to continue the fight for public healthcare.

“We need two stand together and have our voices heard,” she says. “We need to be loud so that they understand that we’re here and we’re here to get service and keep public healthcare and public services, public.”

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