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Hospital CEO says province's plan to alleviate surgery backlog is the right one

'No one has to run to grab their credit cards just yet,' says Cambridge Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Gaskin over private healthcare concerns
2022 0203 Cambridge Memorial Hospital BG 1
Patrick Gaskin is the chief executive officer at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.

When the provincial government announced plans to fund private healthcare providers to help alleviate the pressure of surgery backlogs earlier this month, many said it would lead to a two-tier healthcare in Ontario. 

Hospitals all over Ontario have been experiencing significant wait times and Cambridge is no exception.

But CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital Patrick Gaskin thinks American style healthcare isn’t in the cards for Ontarians, as long as the province remains cautious with how this is rolled out. 

“At this stage, this mainly focuses on day surgery and some ambulatory procedures which are important in terms of providing patients a good and improved quality of life,” Gaskin said. “No one has to run to grab their credit cards just yet.” 

The Ford government's plan is to allocate funding to private hospitals and surgery centres to help alleviate some of the pressure of backlogged appointments.

Gaskin thinks as long as patients are getting care in a timely manner, it’s a good thing. 

“This is one step of making sure we provide care, no matter if cataract, hip replacements, knee replacements, foot surgeries or diagnostics,” Premier Doug Ford said at an announcement on Jan. 16. 

According to Ford and healthcare minister Sylvia Jones, any of these procedures will be paid with an OHIP card and not a credit card. 

CMH has been outsourcing cataract and colonoscopy procedures to private doctors since 2021, and Gaskin predicts there will be other general surgeries outsourced in the near future. This will allow the doctors and staff at the hospital to deal with more urgent surgeries and procedures.

He points out that the current system in Ontario is already a blend of private and public services; areas in dental, mental health and prescriptions are all privately operated. 

“We have lived for a long time in a blended model,” he added. “In a system where we are strapped for resources, there are opportunities now for other care to be provided in a non-hospital, that is ultimately still funded by the government.”

This move to outsource these procedures will be permanent, said Ford citing a growing and aging population. 

He acknowledges the concerns with the shift towards the private sector and jobs being taken away from hospitals, but says the reality is CMH, like many healthcare facilities in Ontario, is dealing with massive staff shortages, resulting in a large portion of the surgery backlogs.

The fear for Gaskin and his colleagues is the so-called siphoning of nurses and doctors away from public healthcare to private hospitals.

“We really need to make sure that our main goal is to safeguard universal access and ensure that we do not see a diminishing of the health human resources within the hospital sector,” Gaskin said. 

Since a private hospital or surgery centre may only be open during the day, off on stat holidays and could have higher pay, Gaskin worries this could be an attractive offer for some staff at CMH. 

The Ontario government has reinforced their commitment to protect the access to qualified employees and to not take away from universal access.

But the concern remains.
“At CMH we need doctors and specialists in our operating rooms. If you get something stuck in your eye in the middle of the night, you are going to want to come in and see an ophthalmologist right away,” noted Gaskin. 

With such dire staff shortages, particularly among nurses, calls are growing louder to rehire healthcare staff that were dismissed for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

CMH let 45 staff go over the last two years due to the non-disclosure of their vaccination status.

Despite the shortage, CMH has no plans to change its vaccination policy and bring on un-vaccinated staff. 

“I have a legal obligation to create a safe environment for my patients,” Gaskin said. “I am going to follow our healthcare professional’s advice and keep this policy, because it does create the safest space for the communities most vulnerable.” 

With the push for more private healthcare, Gaskin and the team at CMH want to assure the community that no matter what happens there will always be a hospital in Cambridge that will be there to help.