Peel Region Health Coalition organizing referendum on private versus public healthcare
Across the province, the Ontario Health Coalition and its regional chapters are organizing a vote to ask residents if they want to keep intact the public healthcare model, as the Doug Ford PC government moves forward with Bill 60 to introduce more private options to the healthcare system.
“This is the question we’re asking — do you want our public healthcare services to be privatized to for profit hospitals and clinics?” Janine Herrmann-McLeod, co-chair of the Peel Region Health Coalition, asked during the press announcement on April 18 outside Brampton Civic Hospital.
Currently in its third reading, Bill 60, Your Health Act, 2023, would allow the appointment of directors to regulate for-profit clinics while hospitals could approve the outsourcing of specific surgeries and diagnostic procedures to these private medical facilities. The basic costs of the work, just like the current system, would still be covered by OHIP, but the PC government has been vague about whether or not taxpayers would eventually pay more for procedures performed outside the actual public system.
Critics have also warned that the Bill, if approved, will lead to more up-selling by private clinics trying to influence patients into spending money out-of-pocket for procedures and services not covered under OHIP.
In the official preamble of the Bill, the PCs claim “it seeks to to improve patient wait times, patient experience and access to care…”.
The Bill was moved in the third reading by MPP for Brampton Centre Charmaine Williams, on behalf of Health Minister Sylvia Jones, MPP for Dufferin-Caledon.
According to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, healthcare has been the second most popular subject among provincial lobbyists, with 1,157 registered lobbying efforts around the issue, second only to economic development and trade, a topic linked to 1,468 registered lobbying instances involving Queen’s Park.
Critics have argued the legislation will widen the healthcare access gap between those who have the money to use private clinics and those who don’t.
Brennan Bempong, an orthopedic technologist was one of those in attendance at the press announcement in Brampton. He warned it isn’t just the average resident who will be disadvantaged, but also the average medical professional, who will have to pick up the slack as certain practitioners in the field leave the public sector for more lucrative private-sector contracts.
“They become overwhelmed, burn out and no longer want to work in the field. So it’s a negative effect where the new workers who come in, recent graduates, get overworked, don’t want to be part of the system so they leave the system. So now you’re stuck with older workers who will have to retire and then there’s no one to come in and replace them.”
Brennan Bempong is an orthopedic technologist with experience working at various hospitals throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Bempong said residents that will benefit are those who already have the resources to go south of the border for private medical care. He says the legislation simply moves the fee-for-service option to their backyard.
Peel Region, particularly Brampton, has long suffered from a lack of funding by the Province. Brampton Civic serves as the city's lone full-service hospital and is where the term “hallway medicine” was popularized.
Documents previously obtained through a freedom of information request by The Pointer revealed in 2018, 3,035 patients had to be treated in makeshift spaces inside Brampton Civic, compared to 2012 when about 1,000 patients had to be cared for in hallways, closet spaces and other inappropriate settings.
As the population across the region, and Ontario, continues to climb, the PCs say their proposed legislation will help address backlogs and over-crowding.
For February, throughout Ontario, 26 percent of patients were admitted into a hospital from emergency within the target of eight hours, while at Brampton Civic only 17 percent received a bed within the target time.
Herrmann-McLeod shared her own experiences with the hospital, being denied cardiac rehab when she got sick.
“After my health declining from my entire twenties I developed dysautonomia (a disorder of the nervous system that can cause the failure of organs including the heart) in 2018 at the age of 25 after a stressful job with an abusive boss.
“When I finally got a diagnosis for this complex, poorly known illness, Brampton Civic Hospital said that it did not do cardiac rehab unless it was for a heart surgery or a heart attack. My life-ruining illness was not eligible despite having a prescription from a top cardiologist.”
She does not think outsourcing certain procedures is the answer to the current problems facing the public system.
The PCs have said the Bill will allow some common surgical procedures, such as cataract surgery and hip and knee replacements, to be performed at private clinics that would be paid by the government, freeing up valuable space inside hospitals so surgical backlogs could be cleared up.
The Ontario Health Coalition, a network of over 400 grassroots community organizations, including Peel’s, is a public advocacy organization dedicated to protect and improve the public healthcare system, instead of expanding the private one.
It has been outspoken in its opposition to Bill 60. During the press conference, another co-chair, Mohammad Ali Aumeer, referred to the Bill’s potential effects as “unprecedented attacks on the Canadian universal healthcare system”.
The referendum, Herrmann-McLeod said, is based on a 2013 action in Kingston where the Kingston and Area Health Coalition launched a community referendum which garnered over 10,000 votes in favour of a fully public hospital rather than the private-public partnered hospital model which had been proposed for the city.
“They got a lot of votes, and that’s just Kingston,” she said. “It’s an action of direct democracy, in a way. So we really want to give the people a voice.”
The list of voting stations will be released during a press conference on May 2, when online voting will also be opened. In the meantime, to help find voting stations, or if a resident owns a local business and wants to help, they are asked to reach out to their local health coalition. Peel’s can be reached at [email protected].
Herrmann-McLeod said confirmed polling stations include Springdale Pharmacy, Heritage Fish and Chips, and there are plans to have roaming stations at or near Chinguacousy Park and the Bramalea City Centre.
Workplace votes will take place from May 8-19, with centres open for voting May 26-27.
The results are expected to be announced through a press conference on May 30, before the ballots are delivered to Queen’s Park the following day.
Voters must be Ontario residents who are 16 or older. All voters will be required to fill out a form with their address and agree to only cast one vote.
While the vote isn’t binding, Herrmann-McLeod said the goal is to make it “politically impossible” for Doug Ford to continue privatizing healthcare, if it’s clear the vast majority of Ontarians do not support the current plan, which was not highlighted by the PCs during the 2022 provincial election campaign.
“We would like to get a million votes. If a million people say, ‘I don’t want this’ and those are just the people who knew about it and bothered to vote, then I think it would be pretty hard to ignore and pretty hard to get reelected if they do ignore.”
She said the goal is about 100,000 votes in Peel.
Annette Power, a volunteer with the Peel Region Health Coalition and founder of the community health consultation team Pages For Good Health, said healthcare is one of the issues that can “truly unite” individuals across Ontario.
“Ford government's Bill 60 has moved us in a dangerous direction,” she said. “Private healthcare introduces a host of issues… It leads to a reduction in accessibility, quality of care, public funding and public healthcare coverage. Not to mention, under privatization of care, there are those who would much rather profit off illnesses and injuries.”
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