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Cambridge council votes against motion supporting referendum on privatized healthcare

Motion to support the Ontario Health Coalition's upcoming referendum defeated in a tie vote
Cambridge Memorial Hospital has partnered with private clinics to deliver endoscopy and cataract surgeries.

Cambridge councillors have voted down a motion to support the Ontario Health Coalition's province-wide referendum on healthcare later this month.

Coun. Donna Reid tabled the motion Tuesday, asking her fellow councillors to send a message to Premier Doug Ford that Cambridge doesn't want to see any further erosion to public healthcare.

The referendum surrounds Bill 60, Your Health Act, and its plans to “substantially” expand for-profit clinics and hospitals by taking surgeries and diagnostic services like MRIs and CT scans out of public hospitals

Reid's motion said the province has contracted the first three for-profit clinics in Windsor, Waterloo and Ottawa for those services and is allowing for-profit corporations to run surgeries out of under-used public hospital operating rooms.

Dr. Mike Laurie, a physician at Cambridge Memorial Hospital, representing the Waterloo Region Health Coalition, corroborated those claims, appearing before council to ask for its support for the citizen-led referendum that will ask Ontarians if they want public hospital services to be privatized to for profit hospitals and clinics.

The referendum will take place on May 26 and 27.

"We are concerned that the strength of a health system is centred around hospitals in communities and we have a very rich history of how these hospitals support us."

Laurie said Ontario ranks lowest among all provinces for per capita funding for healthcare, has the fewest registered nurses per capita and has the fewest hospital beds per capita.

"We have a system that is lagging behind standards set by other provinces and we may be getting deeper in the hole."

Laurie pointed to measures the provincial government has taken over the last few years to further weaken the healthcare system, including Bill 124, which suppresses wages, underspending of budgeted health care funding by $900 million and a plan to cut $5 billion from health care funding by 2024.

These measures were happening while the Ford government doubled provincial funding for independent, for-profit health facilities. The normal control on fees doesn't exist in these private facilities, Laurie added.

Hospitals like Cambridge Memorial, on the other hand, have long histories of serving their communities, are overseen by volunteer boards of citizens, have skilled staff with solid credentials measured against peer hospitals, have quality assurance, accreditation and strong recruiting and reporting, Laurie said.

Moving services out of the hospital has opened capacity in operating rooms, diagnostic services, and integrated programs for rehab, cancer services and specialty clinics, leaving some operating rooms scheduled for only seven hours a day, he said.

"There's lots of spare space and time," Laurie said. "We also have lots of skilled medical and allied health professionals in our hospitals and there's the fear there will be a drain if there's a preponderance of health facilities that are started up that are privately funded."

Touching on the impact to nurses, Laurie said the average life span of a nursing career these days is only 24 months.

"Nurses are leaving the profession in droves because of burnout, because of wages and salaries, and hospitals are now utilizing private agencies that will cost 50 to 100 per cent more to fill the gaps for missing nurses."

Laurie said the drain to private health care will lead to increased costs for many common procedures and surgeries.

Cataract surgeries, for example, cost the province $400 in a public hospital vs. $605 in a private, for-profit healthcare setting, he said. The same increase is seen for hip and knee surgeries, which cost the province $10,500 in public hospitals vs. $20,000 to $28,000 in a private clinic.

Laurie says if current numbers — 25,000 hip replacements and 32,000 knee replacements — are extrapolated from public hospitals to private clinics, it will cost the province $600 million.

"Public health has the hearts of Canadians because we all believe we have a good system here in Canada, a much better system than probably anywhere else in the world," Reid said in urging council's support for her motion. "It doesn't matter whether you're rich, doesn't matter whether you're poor, doesn't matter whether you're Black, you're white, doesn't matter any of those things, you are able to get care when you need it."

"I am worried about this privatization. I am worried it is just the leading edge of what might come after it. I am worried that money that is going into privatization should not be going there but should be going into the public system. I believe privatization threatens our public health care."

Coun. Scott Hamilton said when he lived overseas, Canada was known for a few things; "playing hockey in the cold, being nice and having very good universal healthcare."

When CBC held its vote for the greatest Canadian, it was Tommy Douglas because he ensured public health care would be accessible by every Canadian.

"To me, universal public healthcare is part and parcel of being Canadian and the fear of privatizing it, seeing it slowly chipped away, one service at a time troubles me greatly," Hamilton said, adding it's something generations fought for knowing it's easy to lose. 

Coun. Corey Kimpson called the decision to support Reid's motion "a tough one," adding she has no doubt all members of council support healthcare in our community, but as a municipal government they are not responsible for healthcare and perhaps shouldn't be weighing in issues outside of its jurisdiction.

She cited the support of the Ontario Hospital Association in the creation of partnerships integrating surgical and other services to help ensure access to care for patients, all paid for by OHIP.

Diagnostic lab work is one example where service is provided at a private clinic, she said.

Cambridge Memorial has been working with private providers for endoscopy and cataract surgeries for two years.

"Standards are set and monitored by the hospital. There is no charge to the patient and once again the patient receives the care they need in a shorter time frame."

Kimpson believes there's a lot of confusion around Bill 60 and said she wants to maintain a positive relationship with those responsible for healthcare, adding "we need to allow them to do the work they need to do to ensure our community has the access they need." 

Coun. Nicholas Ermeta agreed, saying he thinks the province is "strapped for money," can't do it all, and needs partnerships to ensure Ontarians have access to healthcare.

"I use private clinics all the time, without any problems. I've never had to pay once," he said, adding he doesn't feel he has enough information on the motion to vote either way.

The motion was defeated in a tie with Mayor Jan Liggett, Kimpson, Coun. Adam Cooper, and Ermeta voting against it, and Coun. Sheri Roberts and Coun. Ross Earnshaw joining Hamilton and Reid in voting in support.

Coun. Mike Devine was absent for the vote.

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Doug Coxson

About the Author: Doug Coxson

Doug has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working mainly in Waterloo region and Guelph
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