Ontario’s health-care system isn’t candy store to be plundered

Posted on August 25, 2022 in Health Policy Context

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Aug. 24, 2022.   By Linda McQuaig, Contributing Columnist

With our health-care system reeling, Ford is charging ahead with privatization while selling it as a way to save the system through “innovation.”

The soft-core porn magnate Hugh Hefner once said he felt like “a kid in the world’s biggest candy store.” My hunch is Doug Ford feels pretty much the same way.

No, I’m not suggesting Ontario’s premier is connected to soft-core porn, but rather that his irrepressible, ear-to-ear grin reflects his sheer delight at having the power to dole out millions of dollars worth of goodies to wealthy interests who are his chums as well as his base.

With our health-care system reeling, Ford is charging ahead with plans for further privatization — Ontario health care is already 40 per cent private — and selling this as a way to save the system through “innovation.”

This is just silly corporate-speak. The system’s problems have been thoroughly studied by countless commissions and the solutions do not involve privatization.

Certainly Ford’s plan to allow private medical companies to perform surgeries, paid for by government, isn’t the way to solve the medical backlog.

Ontario has lots of unused hospital operating rooms, idled after years of cutbacks. Instead of bringing them back into use, Ford plans to divert public dollars to private facilities. But these private companies will take 10 to 15 per cent in profits and pay high management fees, so they’ll cut corners to the detriment of patients.

That’s what corporations do — they devise ways to maximize profit for their shareholders. That’s their mandate, their reason for existing.

And when they’re allowed access to the public trough — where payment is assured and they don’t have to worry about competition — they’ve hit the corporate sweetspot. For all the hoopla about the rigour of the private sector, what businesses actually seek is a comfortable niche in a competition-free zone with a reliable source of revenue. Thank you, medicare!

Last week, Ford pointed to Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Markham as a model. Shouldice is a private hospital that was allowed to remain in business (with costs covered by government) after private hospitals were banned in Ontario in 1973.

Ontario’s public hospitals generally perform hernia operations as day surgery, but Shouldice hospitalizes hernia patients for two nights or more, dramatically increasing the cost to government.

As former Ontario deputy health minister Bob Bell tweeted last week: “Government suggesting Shouldice, which hospitalizes hernia patients 2 nights to make a profit, is ‘innovative’ demonstrates how little Gov’t understands modern surgery.”

Meanwhile, the severe nursing shortage — a key factor in the current crisis — could have been solved if Ford had been willing to increase the pay of nurses and treat them better.

Instead, he cracked the whip, refusing to lift the insulting 1 per cent cap he’d imposed on their wage increases, despite 7 per cent inflation.

What makes this more than austerity-driven foolishness is that the government happily instead hired nurses from private nursing agencies at two or three times the cost, with the private agencies taking a generous cut of this public money.

But Ford’s most egregious health-care privatization involves nursing homes.

As we learned at the height of the pandemic, for-profit nursing homes had COVID death rates about three times higher than publicly operated homes. The care in some of these private facilities was so appalling the Canadian Army was called in to help. (Some military personnel, traumatized by the horrendous conditions they saw, required mental health support.)

But negligent private operators have gone unpunished. Indeed, Ford passed legislation protecting them from lawsuits brought by patients or their families.

And Ford has guaranteed a lucrative future for the private nursing home business, which notoriously lavished millions of dollars in compensation on former Conservative premier Mike Harris.

Ford has awarded 16,000 nursing home beds (government-subsidized licences running for 30 years) to private operators. Best to keep the army on standby.

Privatization has nothing to do with innovation and certainly nothing to do with saving precious health-care dollars or protecting the public. It’s about allowing corporate cronies to milk the public system — something they’re already doing with gusto.

As Ford opens the door wider for them, let’s not forget that the candy store they’re plundering is our beloved public health-care system.


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