/Health coalitions warn of problems with privatization
Representatives of local health coalition groups from Haliburton, Kawartha, Northumberland and Peterborough regions hosted a virtual conference on Feb. 24 to speak out against privatized health care, discuss the impacts on local health care services, and plan for an effective local response./Screenshot from Feb. 24 meeting

Health coalitions warn of problems with privatization

By Sue Tiffin

Local health coalitions have joined forces to launch a “fight back campaign” against the privatization of healthcare services.

Members of the health coalitions representing Haliburton County, City of Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough and Northumberland County met with media via Zoom on Feb. 24 to highlight a comment made by Minister of Health Christine Elliott in early February as she was announcing the reopening of healthcare services.

During her speech, made in Ajax on Feb. 1, Elliott said the province’s science advisory table had identified the most recent wave of COVID-19 had peaked, that hospital capacity was available for COVID-19 patients and the province would resume surgeries and procedures that had been paused to leave room for a surge in patients with the virus. She noted, “We’re opening up pediatric surgeries, cancer screenings, making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate, private hospitals, all of those things are possible because we do have the capacity.”

Sara Labelle, regional vice-president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and chair of the union’s hospital professional division spoke out against allowing independent health facilities and private hospitals to operate in the province. 

“That is a complete departure from what we have historically done in Ontario, and in fact completely goes against the legislation that banned private hospitals back in 1973,” she said. “This is a complete departure from that, it is further privatization, and they’ve done it under the guise of telling people that they’re going to get rid of the backlog by doing this.”

Labelle said expanding surgeries to independent health facilities and private hospitals does not expand capacity for surgeries in the province.

“And the reason that can not happen is because we do not have enough beds in the province of Ontario – that is our problem – and we do not have enough health professionals, doctors and nurses.”

Labelle noted “you have all heard it throughout this pandemic,” that there are not enough health professionals available in the province after “decades of cuts to beds and services.” 

“Opening surgeries up … does not increase the number of health professionals, does not give us more beds,” she said.

Instead, Labelle said privatization can lead to user fees, up-selling of “higher level” of surgeries and queue-jumping. In B.C., she said it was demonstrated that those who paid for surgeries took beds away from the public sector, as a bed must be available for that patient making it not available for the public.

“[Private facilities] take resources away, they poach valuable health professionals into the private sector which then leaves the public sector still needing, already beleaguered, already with a shortage with an even bigger shortage,” said Labelle. “They skim the cream. They want higher volume, lower needs-based patients. They pick and choose the patients they care for and they triage based on who can afford to go to the front of the line. The model we use in our public hospitals, which is, whoever needs the care the most, gets the care first.”

“This is a shifting of a public model, and it is a model we believe in, that we have supported, that we have fought for, that we have paid for, for decades through our taxes and it’s a shift to a for-profit model,” she said.

Labelle said for-profits don’t work, and that, “we don’t have to look any further than the long-term care homes that had tragic death rates throughout this pandemic. The quality of care is not the same.”

Peterborough Health Coalition chair Roy Brady referred to Elliott’s statement as being “clear, blatantly clear privatization,” and said “there’s a need for the provincial government to provide support for our public hospitals.” Private clinics, he said, would “deprive staff from existing under-resourced hospitals.” He questioned who pays for new centres, noting that a corporation or group of medical professionals would need heavy government subsidies, thus “using dollars that haven’t been urgently placed into the staff and operations and the uplifting for public not-for-profit hospitals.” 

Bonnie Roe, co-founder of the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes long-term care coalition, said long-term care “is an area where private companies have, for decades, sadly, had a monopoly and been the largest source of funding for long-term care homes.”

Roe said “we have one of the most unparalleled staffing shortages in Ontario history,” and said “this is a disaster not waiting to happen, it’s a disaster that is happening now.” 

She said she was surprised to hear of the provincial government’s $41 million Extendicare-Haliburton announcement last month, noting the advocacy her group had done in speaking with MPP Laurie Scott, asking her to take their request to end for-profit, long-term care homes to Queen’s Park.

Linda Mackenzie-Nicholas, co- chair of the Northumberland Health Care Coalition, also voiced her concerns regarding what she called “chronic underfunding” in Ontario.

When asked to speak to Elliott’s statement, and the suggestion that it is pro-privatization, Scott told the Times: “Our government is committed to supporting the province’s public health care system. We recognize the impact the delay of certain surgeries and procedures has had on patients. These facilities already perform publicly (OHIP) funded procedures and will ensure patients can access the health care they need when they need it. There has been no expansion to the number of independent health facilities who offer publicly funded procedures in Ontario. A new licence for a private hospital in Ontario has not been issued since 1973. In 1980, there were 19 private hospitals licensed to operate in Ontario. Today, there are only four.”

Regarding the Extendicare funding, Scott said: “In 2021, the province issued a Call for Applications for Long-Term Care Home Development and everyone interested in building and redeveloping long-term care homes was welcome to apply, including existing non-profit, for-profit, and municipal long-term care operators, as well as organizations new to the long-term care sector.”

Scott said “It is important to note that funding is allocated to both not-for-profit and for-profit using a funding model with strict eligibility criteria and financial controls that limit the funding that is available for profit taking.” She added the ministry is prioritizing redevelopment of older long-term care homes “to implement the lessons learned on improved infection prevention and control measures, particularly the elimination of three and four bedrooms in which isolation and co-horting has proven difficult.”

The health coalitions plan to hold a Privatization Summit on March 31.