By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The chair of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition says Ontario’s new five-point health-care plan doesn’t bode well for marginalized citizens.
According to Shirley Roebuck, the government “didn’t listen to stakeholders” when it devised its plan to curtail wait times by freeing up beds in hospitals and long-term care.
“It’s very predictable,” Roebuck told The Chatham Voice following the announcement by Health Minister Sylvia Jones.
“So much of what the Ontario Health Coalition warned would happen prior to the election is now quickly coming true.”
However, she said the average citizen is unlikely to notice the changes unless it “directly” affects them.
Roebuck’s comments came following an Ontario Health Coalition press conference held a day after the minister of health laid out the plan, expected to be passed in the Ontario Legislature in September.
The plan includes hiring more health-care professionals, waiving exam and registration fees for internationally trained nurses and sending hospital patients waiting for a long-term care bed to any available home – not necessarily one of their choosing.
Currently, each patient waiting for a long-term care bed is asked to list up to five homes of their preference.
Also, to help address the backlog, the ministry is increasing the number of publicly funded surgeries at private clinics — a move the OHC has lobbied against.
Another proposed change allows EMS paramedics to divert patients away from emergency rooms to more appropriate care.
A Chatham-Kent Health Alliance statement issued following the ministry announcement said officials are “pleased” with the government’s focus on addressing the issues affecting the health-care system, as the “current situation is not sustainable.”
What CKHA is experiencing is similar to other hospitals, it read, as the hospital continues to experience human resource challenges and capacity issues, which includes a number of patients waiting for an alternate level of care.
There are also patients presenting in the emergency department with “higher levels of acuity,” it said.
The statement said the CKHA is “optimistic” and will be assessing the health-care plan once further details are released to determine how it will help improve care and recruit dedicated staff and physicians.
“We look forward to working with our partners and provincial counterparts as we strive to improve care for our patients, their families and our community,” it said.
The government has come under heavy fire with emergency departments around the province having to close periodically this summer due to staffing shortages.
That’s on top of the long wait times for surgeries and diagnostic procedures made worse by the pandemic.
Earlier this month Jones told reporters, “All options are on the table,” when it comes to fixing hospital wait times and chronic staffing shortages.
According to Roebuck, increased privatization means the government will be using taxpayer dollars to fund health care, and patients may be charged user fees as well.
This adds up to a two-tier system, Roebuck claimed, noting it will harm the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society.
She said the plan to move patients to any long-term care home, rather than one they listed as a choice, means patients may be moved far away from their support system, including family.
“This is really an awful piece of legislation,” Roebuck said, adding those suffering from dementia or other disabilities are significantly at risk.
Roebuck said the problems in long-term care that were heightened during the pandemic haven’t been solved, but the companies continue to siphon off tax dollars.
“Nothing has been done to fix long-term care despite all the promises that were made during the pandemic,” Roebuck noted.
The Ministry of Health has been handing out 30-year contracts to long-term care home companies, including some of which had the highest death rates during the pandemic.