The Sault Ste. Marie Health Coalition - a group affiliated with the Ontario Health Coalition - led the call to end widespread cuts to provincial healthcare during a rally at the George Leach Centre Saturday.
“I’m not doing this because of any kind of partisanship,” local coalition co-manager and former NDP candidate Sara McCleary told the crowd during her opening remarks for the rally. “The reason that I’m involved in this is because everybody, regardless of your party stripes, is going to be feeling the impacts of these cuts and amalgamations being done by the Ford government.”
Ontario Health Coalition Executive Director Natalie Mehra says that Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged to end hallway medicine, increase funding for mental healthcare and expand long-term care during the last provincial election.
“Instead, after the first summer he got elected, they actually cut the funding dramatically by more than $330 million a year for mental healthcare from what was passed in the 2018 budget,” Mehra said.
“The Conservative government plans to cut about $8 billion from our healthcare budgets, even though we’re over capacity and we are seeing hallway medicine everywhere,” said Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Richer.
Mehra told people attending Saturday’s healthcare rally that people are experiencing the impacts of “real dollar cuts” through hospitals, like Sault Area Hospital, operating at overcapacity.
The acceptable rate of capacity for hospitals is about 80 per cent, she said.
“When you get higher than that, what you have is high infection rates, you turn over the beds too fast, there’s more chance of infectious disease,” said Mehra. “It means patients are crowded, it means more violence, it means higher death rates in emergency departments.”
“It means ambulances get taken off the road because they can’t offload their patients because the emergency departments are full.”
Mehra says that Ontario has the highest hospital readmission rates in Canada, in addition to the fewest hospital beds out of any province in the country.
The end result, she says, is that hospitals are “pushing out” its patients “quicker and sicker.”
“What we’re doing in Ontario is not normal,” she said. “It’s nowhere near normal. Ontario has the fewest hospital beds of any province in Canada.”
The Ontario Health Coalition and its supporters are also protesting plans by the province to eliminate 49 of 59 local public health units, up to 25 of 35 local ambulance services and up to 12 of 22 local ambulance dispatch centres.
Local public health inspector Kara Flannigan told people at the rally that public health itself is an “intimate knowledge of our people, our culture and our community.”
But that might not be possible through the merging of local health units.
“I would have a hard time doing a risk assessment or an investigation, or a mitigation of a health hazard in Thunder Bay because I don’t know the community. I’m not familiar with the systems they have there or the culture and the people,” said Flannigan. “The value of local is that I know the people, and I know the resources that we have here.”
Mehra sounded confident when talking about the Ontario Health Coalition’s protest of the provincial healthcare cuts, pointing to the coalition’s previous success in reopening 600 hospital beds across the province.
“When we fought back against cuts, we have won. We’ve stopped them,” she said.
The Ontario Health Coalition staged similar rallies in Chatham and Toronto in November, with a final rally slated to take place in Ottawa Dec. 7.