Last chance for McGuinty on health

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Wed Mar 23 2011.    By Bob Hepburn, Editorial Page

Mary LeBlanc is deeply afraid of the impact the Ontario budget to be tabled next Tuesday will have on her little daughter Abbey, 10, who has cerebral palsy.

“I fear the budget because I’m sure we’re going to get knocked down again,” the Sarnia mother says, adding she has watched in horror over the last two years as critical services that her daughter needs have been slashed.

Like many Ontarians, LeBlanc has given up hope that Premier Dalton McGuinty, his Liberal government or any other politician will help her.

Instead, she and others are bracing for the worst, fully expecting Finance Minister Dwight Duncan to do nothing in his March 29 budget to reverse the deterioration in health-care services.

LeBlanc’s family is one of tens of thousands of Ontario families hit hard by dramatic cuts in health-care services in schools, homes and the community over the past two years. Patients often must suffer long waits for service or don’t get any at all.

Abbey LeBlanc, who has trouble speaking and walking, no longer receives speech-language therapy because she supposedly reached her “quota” of visits by a therapist. She is now visited by a physiotherapist just once every four to six weeks — and then for barely an hour.

“How am I ever going to be able to let Abbey live an independent life?” her mother asked in a telephone interview. “Who will help her when her father and I are gone? We can’t live like this. We need help now, please.”

LeBlanc is not alone in suffering the fallout from cuts in health services.

Last month, the Mississauga Halton Community Care Access Centre, which is responsible for at-home and community health-care support, ordered an immediate halt to almost all new rehab therapy in the region until the new fiscal year, which starts April 1. Officials said the reason for the move was that the CCAC’s budget was shot because of “unprecedented demand” for services from “higher need” clients.

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists were told to place clients on wait lists and tell them to look in the Yellow Pages for private rehab services or seek help from local charities.

For McGuinty, Tuesday’s budget will be his last chance before the Oct. 6 provincial election to fulfill his earlier promises to truly improve home care and community care. It’s a tall order because the current system is a mess, as Auditor General Jim McCarter documented in his latest annual report.

Fixing health care should be a priority for McGuinty. Twice as many Ontario residents cite health care as the most important provincial issue than those who list the economy, which placed second, as the top priority, according to a poll conducted in early March by Nanos Research.

More troubling for McGuinty is that the same poll placed him and Tim Hudak in a virtual tie on the question of which leader do voters trust most to manage the health-care file. This is a stunning result for the premier, given that health care has traditionally been an area where the Liberals are more popular than the Conservatives.

The findings are no surprise to Mary LeBlanc, who can’t understand why McGuinty and Duncan, his finance minister, won’t address the crisis facing home care and community care.

“I don’t get it,” she says, adding that she has met many families in the same situation that she faces trying to find help for Abbey.

“Where are we supposed to get care for our kids? Not all of us are CEOs or doctors or lawyers. We’re just average people. We can’t afford a private speech therapist, so my daughter goes without. All I’m trying to do to is make Abbey’s life as good as I can.”

LeBlanc says she has organized petitions, met with politicians and has even contemplated camping out at Queen’s Park to raise public awareness of the cutbacks.

“I’m willing to work for a solution,” she says, “but the clock is ticking and I’m running out of time.”

Indeed, time is running short for Mary LeBlanc in her search for help for her daughter. It may also be running out for McGuinty, unless his government acts boldly in next Tuesday’s budget.

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