Beware of Premiers bearing promises of a quick health care fix

January 16, 2023

By Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, as published in National Newswatch.

Winston Churchill famously said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,’ and clearly Premiers Doug Ford in Ontario and Danielle Smith in Alberta, took note. Both are seizing this crisis in our health care system to institute huge, ideologically motivated changes to health care delivery. They promise a quick fix, but what they really want is to privatize as much of the system as they can, ripping away at the bedrock of our public health care system.

Reports predict that this week Premier Doug Ford will propose a massive shift of tax dollars from public hospitals to private surgical and diagnostic clinics. Make no mistake, the increased use of for-profit clinics will mean two clear outcomes: first, it will result in less funding for our public health system; and second, it will make the current health care worker shortage even worse.

The reality is private facilities are more focused on maximizing their profits than maximizing positive patient outcomes. Even if these are single-payer health facilities, where you can use your health card, for-profit care means dollars siphoned away from public hospitals to private investors. We saw during the pandemic that for-profit long-term care homes saw higher mortality rates than those that were not-for-profit. Innovative ideas for improving health care delivery are welcome but moving towards a U.S. style for-profit care model won’t benefit everyday people, but it will mean private investors are poised to make millions.

At the heart of the crisis facing the Canadian health care system right now is the critical shortage of workers, full stop. Health care employees who went above and beyond the entire pandemic are exhausted and fed up. Short-staffed facilities are clamoring to fill vacancies but it’s hard to retain demoralized staff.

Recruiting a new generation of health care workers into workplaces facing this level of crisis is a monumental challenge. It will be made even harder if more health workers head for private surgical clinics and empty out our public hospitals. It’s a simple question of math. One nurse removed from the public system and placed into a private facility won’t be easily replaced. Just last week we learned from Ontario Nurses’ Association interim president Bernie Robinson that Ontario’s nurse-to-population ratio is the worst in Canada. The Ford government’s bizarre suggestion that it would be the same staff working at the for-profit clinics shows his government simply doesn’t grasp the problem. Is the same nurse already being forced to work double shifts now expected to add a third or fourth shift at a private clinic?

Ford and other conservatives keep repeating the mantra that people just want better care and don’t care how it is delivered. But people do care. Recent polling released by the Ontario Federation of Labour showed that 60 percent of Ontarians oppose private health care delivery. And this number will only grow when someone is rushed to the hospital for urgent care only to find the surgeon out moonlighting at a private clinic, padding the bank accounts of investors off quick and easy procedures.

We are seeing public health care failing across the country. But the solution isn’t for-profit clinics taking money out of the public system. What we need is all levels of government to come together behind a plan to strengthen our public health care system, starting with addressing the critical shortage of health workers we are facing across the country.

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