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A fight to save healthcare jobs

The Ontario Healthcare Coalition will be holding a public meeting in Sault Ste.

The Ontario Healthcare Coalition will be holding a public meeting in Sault Ste. Marie to protest impending job cuts at Sault Area Hospital (SAH) and, hopefully, come up with a plan to apply enough pressure to the Ontario government to save those jobs.

SAH will soon begin the process of cutting several medical positions in response to a $10 million shortfall in provincial funding for the coming fiscal year (April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016).

"These are really, really very deep cuts," said Natalie Mehra, OHC executive director, speaking to SooToday from her Toronto office.

The OHC will be holding its public meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 main hall, Wednesday, February 25 at  7 p.m.

"(We are concerned) Sault Area Hospital is facing very significant cuts…this is despite the fact the hospital is  running at full, if not over capacity, regularly, with cuts all through the hospital, in the operating room, intensive care unit, oncology, surgery, hemodialysis, infection control, with 59,000 nursing hours in total to be cut per year," Mehra said.

Mehra said the OHC has had success in the past combatting job and service cuts at Ontario healthcare facilities.

"Public meetings are the first step…at every meeting we organize to mount a campaign, to put the pressure where it's needed to actually stop the cuts."

"We worked successfully with the folks from St. Joseph Island to stop the closure of the emergency department there (at the Matthews Memorial Hospital Site, now affiliated with the Blind River District Health Centre), in Windsor we won the reopening of 50 beds, we stopped them from closing small town hospital emergency departments all across Ontario, won the reopening of beds in Sudbury, and stopped cuts and won refunding in Cornwall, so all over Ontario we've stopped cuts when we've worked to do so."

"We're hoping people will come out and work with us to try and save services in Sault Ste. Marie as well," Mehra said.

"I have a lot of sympathy for the hospitals and I know your hospital has been roundly criticized, but the bottom line is this, for more than eight years in a row, Ontario's government has set funding for hospitals at less than the rate of inflation."

"For the last three years, and we're going into a fourth year now, global hospital funding has been frozen at a zero percent increase, so like a household, if your income doesn't keep pace with inflation you have less buying power and you have to cut, so Sault Area Hospital has been through rounds and rounds of cuts and these are not because of fiscal imprudence on the part of the hospital board," Mehra said.

Mehra also said the OHC clearly disapproves of the salaries for what she called "legions of managers that are all over our hospital system all over the province " 

"There's been what I call a technocratic revolution, there are all these managers that are not improving patient care or outcomes at all, they are creating a lot more jobs for themselves, management begets management, there's no question the money should go to patient care, period." 

With what the OHC considers too many management officials aside, Mehra said Ontario needs to invest more in healthcare.

"Ontario funds its hospitals at the lowest rate of any province in the country.  Every province is better than us in terms of providing funding resources and the cuts we're seeing now, eight years in, are cuts that unquestionably mean worse patient outcomes, and they just have to stop."

"Frankly, the government has not shown one wit of caring about the fact people are being discharged (earlier than they should be), that people are suffering, patients are left on stretchers for hours, that wait lists are going up again, and all these things are consequences of purposeful underfunding of hospitals," Mehra said.

"The government needs to deal with that, and at the same time, they need to deal with this technocratic revolution they've created..every round of cuts is accompanied by ever more bean counting and reporting, evaluating and  assessing, none of which has improved patient care and access to care."

"That needs to stop, the money needs to be put to patient care and the funding for hospitals needs to improve," Mehra said.

"Instead of pretending they (the province) are not cutting, it would be much better to to have a real debate about the direction the government is going…the cuts are too deep, Ontario has the fewest beds left in any jurisdiction in any industrialized country per capita, but let's get off this 'we're not cutting.'"

Mehra said the OHC is currently addressing cuts "in 30 or more" communities across Ontario, including other Northern Ontario centres such as Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins, New Liskeard and others.

The OHC is a Toronto-based organization consisting of many individuals and member groups dedicated to protecting and improving public health care in Ontario.       



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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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