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February 9, 2024

Opening new surgical centres:

– Fool me once…



As the timeless proverb goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Over the winter break, listening to people across the riding, I hear growing concern about the Ford government’s privatization of healthcare. Lately, the focus seems to be on Premier Ford’s eagerness to throw out the welcome mat for for-profit surgical clinics. Next to Premier Ford’s dogged determination to make suds available on every street corner and gas station, this has been his number-one hit tune.

People are sick and tired, no pun intended, of long waits in hospital EDs, waits for specialist consultations and waits for surgery. MILLIONS of Ontarians are fed up because they have been trying for years without success to get onto a doctor’s roster and feel no hope for the future. They are weary, they are worried, and they just want the physical and psychological pain to end.

People were initially angry that our healthcare system was failing them. Patients can’t get onto a physician’s roster, spend hours and hours waiting for treatment in hospital emergency departments, wait for days to be admitted to an actual bed in a hospital and wait for months or even years to see a specialist or have surgery.

Please forgive me for being blunt. The fact is that the privatization tune is now on everyone’s lips, which is no accident. Many believe it results from a well-executed political agenda that has been to the detriment of Ontarians’ health. The Ford government has worn people down for so long that they are ready to say, “I no longer care about public healthcare. I’ll pay whatever it takes for some relief.”

It would not be the first time a Conservative government used such a tactic. Some will recall the Hon. John Snoblen, Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government. As Minister, Snoblen was recorded on video admitting that the Province deliberately bankrupted the education system and antagonized the teachers to no end in order to create a “useful crisis” to bring about its desired reforms.

Sound familiar?

Premier Ford now hopes to reap the fruits of his labour with his healthcare agenda. The government announced their controversial plan to clear the backlogs of surgeries by allowing surgeries to take place in standalone for-profit clinics. They will start gradually with procedures such as hip and knee replacements, and then once people get used to the idea, they will add more and more procedures to the list. You know, kind of like the concept of cooking a frog. Put a frog into hot water, and they will immediately jump out. But if you put them in cold water and slowly raise the heat, the frog won’t notice the difference, and they end up as soup.

Our doctors and nurses are paying the price as well. The January 10, 2024, issue of the Ottawa Citizen reported the results of a Nanos survey of Ontario hospital workers, indicating that more than half of those surveyed dread going to work each day. The Citizen quoted Dave Verch, first vice president of CUPE Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, saying, “We are hearing from members that people are breaking down before they go to work and during lunch breaks. It is bleeding into their personal lives.”

The survey results indicated that 48 percent of hospital workers are considering leaving the field because the stress at work is unbearable, and they know they are taking it home to their families. It just is not healthy for them to continue. If they do leave, who will be left to care for patients who end up in the hospital? Volunteer candy stripers?

The new for-profit surgical clinics will be able to schedule operations and procedures to weekdays and business hours if they wish. This will undoubtedly be very attractive to stressed-out workers in our public hospitals. They will be drawn like bees to honey – and who can blame them? They have bills to pay and children to care for, like you and me.

But of course, Premier Ford promises that this won’t happen. He promises that all independent hospitals will be required to submit staffing plans to the Ministry to prove that they are not luring existing staff from public hospitals. In the January 13, 2023 issue, Toronto Star reporters Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie quoted an unnamed ministry official who said, “We’re going to put measures in place to make sure a doctor or nurse doesn’t just leave the hospital for the other (private) clinic.” They explained that they anticipate workers will split their hours between public and private hospitals, working at the private facilities “in their spare time.”

In their spare time!? Really? Are these the same over-stressed workers already in such short supply and working extra shifts who will give up their days off and spare time to work a second job?

The plan is plain ludicrous.

This promise to scrutinize hospital worker pirating is coming from the same government that paid out almost $1 billion to businesses that were not eligible for COVID-19 assistance. The December 1, 2021, Toronto Star reported, “In a rush to get COVID-19 aid out the door, Premier Doug Ford’s government sent almost $1 billion to thousands of businesses that weren’t eligible for it or were given more than their losses warranted, charges Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Can we have confidence that this same government will do better to prevent a mass exodus of healthcare workers from public hospitals to for-profit clinics?

“Lysyk found a “troubling” absence of controls that resulted in the approval of “suspicious” applications — including from businesses with addresses outside Ontario — because of a focus on speed and a lack of verification.”

This is the same Premier who was caught on video in 2018 committing to friendly developers that he was going to open “a big chunk” of the Greenbelt for homebuilding. Then, when the comment was exposed, he pivoted, promising Ontarians unequivocally, “We won’t touch the Greenbelt.” Well, we all know how the rest of that story played out….

And, just a couple of weeks ago, News from the Park covered the topic of protecting residents of long-term-care facilities with the subtitle “It’s a matter of trust.”

This is the same government whose Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, the Hon. Christine Elliott, resigned from politics and, in short order, signed on as a lobbyist for a known for-profit hospital. For such a high-level government leader to lay out such a blatant agenda so quickly raises extreme concern for personal and government ethics and the potential for conflict of interest.

To those Ontarians who are telling themselves, “Enough! I just want to feel better. I just want to have access to a doctor,” or, “I just want to have the operation that I need,” I say, I get it. I do understand why they are at the end of their rope. However, I can’t help but also think we are being led and pushed simultaneously down a path we cannot afford to go. We must stay strong and say to ourselves and our loved ones, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Can Ontarians afford to allow themselves to be manipulated into giving up our hard-earned public healthcare? It’s one of those things that, once lost, will never, ever be able to afford to put back the pieces again.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org  or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.       

Michael Mantha MPP/député       

Algoma-Manitoulin

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