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Ontario isn’t ruling out privatization in health care. Here’s what that could look like | CBC News

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Ontario’s health care Minister Sylvia Jones says Ontarians should not be afraid of innovation.

The minister’s comments come as the government says it’s considering various ways to deal with health staff shortages that have led to emergency departments across the province closing for hours or days at a time.

On Thursday, a day after she came under fire for refusing to rule out further privatization in the system, Jones emphasized that people in the province will always be able to access health care without paying out of pocket.

Access to health care through OHIP cards “is never going to change,” Jones said, in response to a question by Opposition NDP Leader Peter Tabuns in question period.

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Tabuns asked if patients should start paying for the care they now receive as a right.

However, Jones did not rule out — when asked — more of a role for private corporations to deliver public services, which already happens to some degree in Ontario’s system.

What further privatization could look like 

Ontario already has private deliverers for health services, such as dental work, says Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. In these settings, she says people usually pay a premium to their insurance company to access these services.

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WATCH: Privatization ‘opposite’ of solving Ontario’s ER crisis, doctor says:

Privatization ‘opposite’ of solving Ontario’s ER crisis, doctor says

Toronto ER physician Dr. Lisa Salamon says the Ontario government should focus on supporting and retaining health-care workers instead of considering privatization to solve the province’s staffing crunch.

NDP health care critic France Gélinas says expanding that further means Ontarians will have to pay more fees to continue accessing health services.

“You see the result in poor care, in barriers to access, and those will only multiply,” said Gélinas.

Some hospital emergency rooms have been closing throughout the summer as a result of the recent staffing shortages. Meanwhile, data from the College of Nurses show about 15,000 nurses licensed to work in Ontario aren’t currently practicing. 

According to the NDP, Ontario has the lowest nurse-per-capita ratio in Canada at 665 registered nurses for every 100,000 people, and the lowest number of hospital beds per capita throughout all OECD countries.

Gélinas says a privatized health care system allows rich people to get care faster, but the “great majority” of Ontarians will wait even longer for care because staff will leave the public sector to work in the private sector instead.

Why are we not thinking that everybody should be equal, and your paycheck should not dictate whether you have the right to live or die?– Cathryn Hoy, Ontario Nurses’ Association

She also pointed toward the start of home-care and long-term care privatization in 1996, led by Conservative Premier Mike Harris, in a bid to do things “better, faster [and] cheaper.”

“Fast forward to 2022, would you say our home-care system is good? It fails more people than it helps every single day. Same thing with long term care.”

The state of long-term care in Ontario was thrust in the spotlight at the onset of the pandemic, when in the first wave, experts found the province saw 78 per cent more deaths in people with COVID-19 in for-profit homes than in their public counterparts. 

Fixing the current system

Meanwhile, Ontario’s official opposition introduced its first motion of the session in Ontario’s legislature Thursday aimed at solving the province’s health care staff shortage, and is calling on all members of government to support it regardless of party lines.

Tabuns says the motion calls for health care recruitment and retention packages that include an end to public workers’ wage cap policy Bill 124, more raises, better working conditions and partnerships with unions like the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

“This health care crisis is the worst we’ve seen in generations,” said Tabuns in a news conference Thursday. 

“But there are solutions, and solutions that don’t include privatizing a system that has to remain public.”

Ontario NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns, health care critic France Gélinas and Ontario Nurses’ Association president Cathryn Hoy want to fix Ontario’s existing health care system without privatizing it further. (CBC Toronto)

For her part, Hoy said she’s opposed to a privatized system. 

“Why is privatization so important to others? Why are we not working with the system that we have? Why are we not fixing it?” said Hoy.

“Why are we not thinking that everybody should be equal, and your paycheck should not dictate whether you have the right to live or die?”

For the past decade, Hoy says the union has been in talks with the province on how to improve the health care system. While she says the health care worker shortage didn’t happen overnight, it was worsened by the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of collective bargaining rights for nurses after the introduction of Bill 124 in 2019.

“We need a government that’s going to work with us, a government that wants to make change and invest monies where money should be invested,” said Hoy.

“It is a health crisis in Ontario, and we are putting patient care at risk because of the lack of nurses and health care professionals to properly provide this care.”

Both the NDP and ONA called the current state of health care in the province a crisis, contrary to what premier Doug Ford and health minister Sylvia Jones said earlier this week. 

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