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Healthcare privatization could cost taxpayers more for services, advocates warn

Ontario’s healthcare privatization bill could have more detrimental effects on rural municipalities than promised by the Ontario government.  
Nipigon District Memorial Hospital
file photo

A group of public health care advocates are gauging public opinion to provincial plans to introduce the privatization of some services.

The Ontario Health Coalition is holding what it calls a "community-run referendum," asking participants whether people want public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics.

"The concern we have in the small municipalities is that the hospitals in those municipalities might lose doctors or people will have to go away for surgeries, and it will result in the closure of those hospitals,” said Jules Tupker, the Thunder Bay chair for the Ontario Health Coalition.

Regional hospitals are already facing a staffing crisis as the province sunset funding streams that could be used to incentivize locum doctors to work in rural communities. Hospitals are already concerned the lack of funding will lead to hospital closures this summer. However, if Bill 60 passes, rural hospitals may be under threat of closing emergency rooms permanently as the private sector becomes more attractive to public healthcare workers.

Volunteering to spearhead the event in the Township of Terrace Bay, Mayor Paul Malashewski, wants his community to be informed of the effects Bill 60 might have on rural hospitals.  

“We have a small hospital and with the privatization of the healthcare system, we could stand to lose some doctors and some nurses. If the smaller hospitals start losing staff, it will hurt the residents of the town,” said Malashewski.

To compete with the private sector wages, public hospitals will need to cut services to maintain their operating budget. By cutting services, rural residents will have to travel to larger urban cities.  

“It will probably end up costing people more. I know that Doug Ford says you pay with your health card, not your credit card, but I can see that changing down the road. I know they’ve tried that, but the reduction in wait time isn’t happening in Alberta and that’s what they are proposing here too,” added Malashewski.

The Terrace Bay Community Centre Office will hold a voting booth on Friday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Volunteer Laurie Ratz, a local union representative at the Nipigon Hospital, said the public should have been consulted on the proposed legislation.

“Our community is concerned about what will happen to our hospital. Will it be sold? Will they be treated as something to make a profit with when the intention of making these hospitals is for the public to have access to free healthcare based on the coverage provided by our taxes,” said Ratz.

Ratz expressed concern that privatizing the healthcare system will lead to more social inequality.

“The privatization of health care will turn into a health care system that is not available to everybody. Right now, everybody has access to healthcare whether you are rich or poor, whether you live in Nipigon or Thunder Bay, you have access. If you’re sick, if you need help, you can get help. I’m worried that privatizing it, healthcare will only be more readily available to people who have money,” said Ratz.

Nipigon Mayor Suzzanne Kukko said the bill would weaken the public health system, and give too much power to private providers.

"For the rural folks, we already don’t get funding because our populations are so small with our long-term care," Kukko said. "I don’t know if Bill 60 is the answer.”

Earlier this year, the Ontario government sunset the Elderly Capital Assistance Program which aided hospitals in funding long-term care.

“I think that people need to educate themselves on what Bill 60 is and then go vote in the referendum if they feel strongly about it,” said Kukko.

On Friday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Nipigon residents can vote at the town municipal office and Zechner's Grocery Store.

To find a voting location in your area click the link or cast your vote online

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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