/Health coalition says province starves public hospitals

Health coalition says province starves public hospitals

by James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Allowing some medical procedures to be done at private facilities starves public hospitals, says the Ontario Health Coalition.

A new report, entitled Robbing from the public to build the private: The Ford government’s hospital privatization scheme, reveals that local hospitals in every region of Ontario have operating rooms sitting idle the majority of the time.

The public has funded local hospitals for more than 70 years to build operating room capacity that is unused while the Ford government is shunting unprecedented public money to private for-profit clinics and hospitals to build new operating rooms, the coalition reports.

In early 2023, the provincial government passed legislation to allow more private clinics to offer certain publicly funded surgeries and procedures. Premier Doug Ford said at the times that it was an effort to cut long wait lists for care.
Procedures opened up to private facilities include cataract surgeries, diagnostic imaging and testing, and hip and knee replacement surgeries.

Government said at the time that the move was to address a backlog of those procedures.

For the last year, the coalition researched the unused capacity in local public hospitals through Freedom of Information requests and interviews with surgical staff.

Natalie Mehra, the group’s executive director, said they gathered figures from Ontario government budget and expense documents, media reports, contracts, and accountability agreements to provide a litany of examples of much higher costs and large funding increases provided by the Ford government to for-profit corporation clinics, hospitals, and staffing agencies.

“At the same time, the government has imposed dollar cuts, deficits, and wage caps on public hospitals, robbing them of the ability to attract and retain staff and use their existing operating room capacity,” she said.

Alexandria, Brockville, Cambridge, Hawkesbury, Kitchener, London, North Bay, Oakville, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharines, Southampton, and Wiarton are communities that have functional operating rooms that are unused.

Hospitals in Alliston, Almonte, Barrie, Bowmanville, Carleton Place, Collingwood, Cornwall, Kingston, Meaford, Nepean, Niagara Falls, Orillia, Oshawa, Ottawa, Pembroke, Peterborough, Toronto, and Welland have operating rooms that are closed the majority of the time.

Their closed either late afternoons, evenings, overnight and/or on weekends.

Mehra said Queen’s Park has imposed real dollar cuts on public hospitals, pushing them into service closures and deficits, while funding for-profit hospitals and clinics with increases up to and over 300%. Ontario funds its public hospitals at the lowest rate of all provinces.

The province has funded private for-profit hospitals at double the rate per surgery than it funds public hospitals and has funded private for-profit ophthalmology clinics across Ontario at 21 per cent to 56 per cent more for each cataract surgery.

She said the coalition has found that government has refused to act on the for-profit staffing agencies that are charging up to three times more than public hospitals for staff, having escalated their prices by more than 70 per cent since Ford took office, while imposing wage caps and real dollar cuts on public hospital staff.

The health care budget has been underspent, shunting billions to contingency fund and budget surplus, while leaving hospitals in unprecedented crisis, Mehra said.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in public money is being used to dismantle and privatize our public hospitals, robbing the public to build the private,” she said. “A

few for-profit corporations are being enriched by the Ford government’s privatization scheme while our public hospitals and patients pay the price.

“It is beyond time that there is a rigorous investigation into who is benefitting

from these policy choices and what their connections are to this government because the costs and threats to our local public hospitals and the future of our single-tier public health system are very real and urgent.”