Hospital workers continue to protest Bill 60

OPSEU flag at the site of Wednesday's demonstration

Hospital professionals at Kingston General Hospital held another rally in protest of the Ontario government’s plan to shift some surgeries to private clinics.

While much smaller than the demonstration seen in Kingston at the beginning of the month, local unions and others throughout the province are continuing to protest the steps being taken by the province.

Ontario passed Bill 60 last week, dubbed the “Your Health Act” by the Ford government, despite pushback from healthcare unions and supporters in the public.

The passed legislation aims to “recognize the value of a healthcare system that collaboratively integrates publicly funded, community-based health services with local and regional health system partners” and “expand access to publicly funded community-based health services to improve patient wait times, patient experience and access to care.”

The Ontario government says it’s attacking the 200,000 surgery backlog in Ontario, but healthcare unions say it’s an attack on public healthcare as a whole.

On Wednesday, OPSEU Local 4106 President Erica Benn says there’s nothing in the legislation that will stop private clinics from charging more for surgeries than what OHIP covers (the Ontario Health Coalition says the possibility of upselling is a chief concern in their analysis of Bill 60).

While the current expansion remains covered under OHIP, Benn says it’s a slippery slope.

“If you have family that needs healthcare… anybody who needs public healthcare,” Benn said.

“If the Ford government is successful in privatizing we’re going to be paying for it. Not everybody can pay for it.”

Ultimately, hospitals are worried what this will do to compound an already difficult to manage staffing shortage, and unions say the government should invest in existing hospitals and healthcare workers instead of creating a new system.

While demonstrations could continue from unions, the Ontario Health Coalition is also trying to raise awareness of a public referendum collecting votes on hospital privatization.

The major push of the referendum will be May 26 and 27, but voting stations were open nearby Wednesday’s rally.

Trish Campbell, collecting ballots for the Health Coalition, said that the public hasn’t been properly educated or consulted about Bill 60 and privatization.

She says the issue around Bill 60 is pretty black and white, and they want the public to be heard.

“He (Ford) didn’t ask Ontarians what they want so that’s what we’re doing,” Campbell said.

“We’re sitting out here asking Ontarians exactly that: do you want a public system or do you want our tax dollars to go to private corporations?”

The coalition hopes to garner a million votes by May 27, setting up over fifteen polling stations in Kingston and a thousand province wide.

Ross Sutherland, co-chair of the Kingston affiliate of the Ontario Health Coalition, says the details of Bill 60 haven’t been well communicated, and that the government’s actions aren’t representative of most of the public’s desires.

He says it hasn’t been hard to get people to voice their protest against privatization.

“The nitty-gritty has not been communicated very well,” Sutherland said.

“This is one of the easiest campaigns to be on the street about. People are really concerned about privatizing public hospitals, they value the public healthcare system.”

In response to protests against Bill 60, Hannah Jensen, Press Secretary to the Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, said the government has invested over $80 billion in the public healthcare system this year and reiterated that it is one of the largest public systems in the world.

She said in a statement that the surgeries will be publicly funded and that Bill 60 protects the stability of healthcare workers in Ontario.

“Bill 60 also strengthens the already robust framework for the oversight of community and surgical diagnostic centres, including a provision to bring these centres under the oversight of a patient ombudsman, and puts into law that Ontarians will always access insured services at community surgical and diagnostic centres with their OHIP card and never their credit card,” Jensen said.

“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.”

Jensen did not directly address questions about comparisons drawn to the American healthcare system or general communication about Bill 60 to the public, but the provincial government feels the concerns have been addressed.