Hundreds in Kingston’s healthcare community came together on Tuesday morning to clearly demonstrate their opposition to the Conservative health care privatization – or what they call “the biggest attack on public health care in history.”
Five different unions with members working in Kingston healthcare (CUPE, OPSEU, ONA, SEIU and UNIFOR) collectively brought their voices to Breakwater Park across from Kingston General Hospital to raise the alarm on the Ford government privatizing healthcare.
CUPE Local 1974 President Barb Deroche says prioritizing more and more private, for profit clinics will only compound the already drastic situation faced by frontline workers and force people without the means to comfortably pay out of pocket to wait even longer for service.
“They’re creating a two tier healthcare system,” Deroche said.
“Those people that can afford healthcare will get the care and those that can’t will have to wait on a longer waiting list. It’s going to create longer waiting lists, more shortages of staff, and people aren’t going to get the healthcare services they want.”
Deroche says increasing privatization is siphoning qualified staff from a system that’s already in crisis, and that those private centres will make every effort to accept only the healthiest patients, ultimately leaving public hospitals with the most severe health issues but with less staff to address those patients.
With wages remaining fairly stagnant in recent history, it’s understandable to see frontline workers seek out better pay – but Deroche says encouraging that switch rather than investing in our current system to keep those staff will be detrimental to most of the general public.
“We’re seeing a large exodus of our healthcare services going to private care,” Deroche said.
“It’s going to leave our hospitals with no staffing. It’s going to just perpetuate the problem we already have. We need this government to invest more in healthcare, in public healthcare not private healthcare, and to invest in the workers that have already been through so much.”
Erica Benn, President of OPSEU Local 4106 says only the “elite of the elite” will come out as winners from privatization.
People that most voters don’t interact with whatsoever.
“That’s not our families, that’s not our friends,” Benn said.
“Really the general public is not going to benefit from this.”
Benn said demonstrations against the Ford government’s plans began in fall, with signatures collected on a petition in February.
She says the collective support from all the unions involved sets a precedent and further connects them to each other.
“These five unions have never come together in this capacity to fight back the government on the same agenda,” Benn said.
“Privatization of our public hospitals hurts all the unions.”
The unions say Tuesday is just the first of several visible actions from frontline staff planned for the next few months.
The issue is far from unique to Kingston, and as such hospital workers from both Hamilton and Lakeridge Health bussed to Kingston to be part of the demonstration.
Jillian Watt, President of CUPE 7800 in Hamilton made the trip to Kingston to be part of the rallyn, saying it’s important for healthcare workers everywhere to raise their voice and make the public aware of how bad it could get.
Watt says she’s personally seen how detrimental, and largely unaffordable, a pay for care system can be both domestically and south of the border where universal health care hasn’t been adopted.
“I’ve actually been in the ER in Florida for something minor and I’ve seen people turned away that are sick,” Watt said.
“I don’t think anyone understands how detrimental this will be to so many people… it’s scary, it’s very scary.”
Kevin Cook, another supporter bussed in from the Golden Horseshoe, said there will certainly be demonstrations soon to follow in other areas like Hamilton.
He says even if private clinics only accept the simplest of cases, it opens up the potential of something going wrong without adequate safeguards in place.
“The private clinics aren’t equipped to handle the complications,” Cook said.
“And to say we’re only going to take patients that aren’t complicated… patients can never be predictable, anything can happen…”
Ontario’s Ministry of Health says since the Ford government took office in 2018 the province has added over 60,000 new nurses and nearly 8,000 doctors.
The Ministry says Bill 60, which lays the framework for private clinics to offer surgeries and other hospital services, will not open the door to patients paying out of pocket and that it’s being implemented alongside other investments in health care.
“Further leveraging community and surgical diagnostic centres is in addition to the nearly $1 billion our government has invested in public hospitals through the Surgical Recovery Fund. This fund remains available to hospitals and can be used to extend operating room hours on the weekend and weekdays,” a statement from the Ministry reads.
“Ontario is proud to continue to have one of the largest publicly funded healthcare systems in the world, a system that we are investing nearly $80 billion in this year. Our government will continue to take an all-hands-on deck approach to connect Ontarians across the province to more publicly funded services, closure to home.”
Local Presidents from OPSEU, ONA and CUPE were expected to meet with KHSC President and CEO Dr. David Pichora shortly after the rally.
Neither Dr. Pichora or KHSC have provided an official statement on the rally at this time.
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News