November 3, 2023
Under Ford, healthcare dollars will be funnelled into the
deep pockets of for-profit businesses
The quote “In the midst of every crisis lies an opportunity” is often attributed to Albert Einstein. There have been times when I’ve faced difficult times, and I thought of this to keep my thinking constructive and focused on finding the silver lining to take away. It’s good to be an optimist in politics, I think. The way I see it, the people who elected all of us at Queen’s Park did so with the expectation that Members are going to be thoughtful and solution-oriented.
However, there is a more cynical interpretation of Dr. Einstein’s quote: that a crisis presents an opportunity to enrich oneself.
Take, for example, the healthcare staffing crisis we currently face in our province. It is undoubtedly a large-scale crisis, especially here in the North, where ER closures, Code Blacks, and long wait times are becoming a regular occurrence. In previous columns, I have made the case that this is, in part, a crisis manufactured by this government that underspends on healthcare and imposes counter-productive legislation such as Bill 124.
Amid this crisis is the matter that for-profit nursing agencies have taken advantage of staff burnout and the low-wage policies of the government to further their own profits. These are private companies that hire nurses and then contract them to hospitals and long-term care homes that are short-staffed. In the North, there is a growing reliance on these companies to keep staffing levels sufficient to deliver care to communities.
These companies can charge two or even three times as much per hour for a nurse working under contract as compared to what a hospital or long-term care home can offer. These contracted positions are often short-term, meaning the institution hiring them must provide orientation, housing and accommodations, and travel costs to Northern Ontario. All of this is a massive burden on budgets already stretched thin by underfunding.
This week, one of my colleagues brought forward legislation aimed at curbing this problem. It was legislation that would’ve placed licensing and services standards on nursing agencies to make sure that they are contracting nurses who are qualified, that they do not charge unconscionable prices or raise their prices during times of high demand, and that they are not poaching nursing staff already working in the public system.
During the debate on the bill, I spoke to echo the unanimous calls I’ve had from hospital and long-term care leadership teams in Algoma-Manitoulin. This is not a sustainable system for public healthcare in the North. It will continue to be a race to the bottom if nothing is done to address the staffing crisis or the unrestrained discretion that these companies have to operate in Ontario.
When it comes down to it, this way of doing things amounts to a massive grab out of the public purse and funnelling millions of dollars into the pockets of private companies. Ontario’s healthcare system allows more money to be taken out of public hospitals, diverting it towards the profits of the company owners. I firmly believe this is not a responsible use of tax-payer money, especially in healthcare where we, as Canadians, expect it to be a public good and not a private service.
Despite the legislation I mentioned above failing to pass because the government voted against it, this issue is not going to go away. Another bill is on the Order Paper that would require these companies to transition to a non-profit model and impose similar restrictions on their exploitative behaviour. I plan to support that bill as well and to keep raising this issue in the legislature.
Private nursing agencies are clearly exploiting a crisis, but we, as responsible elected officials, must not let them.
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 my new address, email@example.com or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député