Why Doug Ford’s to blame for health-care mess

Posted on July 16, 2020 in Health Debates

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Columnists

There’s a well-worn saying in the business world that you can’t cut your way to greatness.

It applies equally well to Ontario’s health-care system, which is struggling to cope under the unprecedented strains imposed by the current COVID-19pandemic.

As he launches a major campaign-style road show this week that will see him travel nearly 5,000 kilometres across the province this summer, Premier Doug Ford will be thanking beleaguered health-care workers for their dedication and hard work during the pandemic.

Along the way he will also detailing (bragging?) about how he believes he has acted quickly and decisively in meeting the needs of doctors, nurses, therapists, personal support workers and others in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and in fixing the province’s struggling health-care system.

The reality, though, is something completely different.

In fact, since taking office more than two years ago, Ford has made a long series of policy and funding moves that have worsened — not improved — the already underfunded and overloaded system.

Indeed, Ford’s actions — all made with the clear goal of cutting costs — have produced few, if any positive results, with no money saved, no end to “hallway medicine” and no sign of better days ahead for patients.

And while the bandages Ford has hurriedly thrown at health care since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in February have helped a bit by momentarily easing the bleeding, they have failed to stop the pain inflicted by Ford since his election victory in June, 2018.

Even more troubling is the fact health-care professionals are predicting the system will faces years of increasing struggles unless Ford does something dramatic.

That’s because the health-care cuts Ford has made to date have meant fewer health-care workers, more overcrowding, more rationing of services — and more money that patients and their families likely will have to pay in the coming years for medical care.

Stunningly, even in the midst of the pandemic, Ford’s cuts continue to hurt our health system. Just last week, the sole nurse practitioner at the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, based in Simcoe, was cut as a cost-saving measure. This was on top of cuts to three nursing positions in February, just as the COVID-19 crisis was emerging as a major health issue. The cuts impacted services such as community health, infectious disease care and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Health experts from such groups as the Ontario Health Coalition, Ontario Nurses Association and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario constantly monitor what Ford is doing — and what they find is ugly.

Here are a few of the measures Ford has imposed over the past year that negatively impact health care:

  • Destabilized public health units by cutting their budgets by $200 million a year, then reversing the cuts without clarity on funding levels beyond the first year;
  • Set real-dollar budget cuts, with funding for daily hands-on care increased at barely one per cent, below the inflation rate.
  • Cancelled mandatory annual inspections of long-term-care facilities
  • Passed Bill 124, giving health-care workers and other government employees pay raises of just one per cent a year, which is below the inflation rate. This comes after most health-care professionals didn’t get a pay hike in the last 10 years.
  • Rejected proposals to increase the number of nurses despite being shown the province has the lowest nurse-to-population ratio in Canada.
  • Passed Bill 175, restructuring the home-care sector in which for-profit private delivery of home care will increase, but with no commitment to increase the number of patients receiving home care or increase the number of visits a patient can receive.
  • Rejected pleas to increase rehabilitation services for thousands of patients now paying for such needed services out of their own pockets.

The list goes on — and it’s long.

During the pandemic’s early days Ford said he had “no problem” taking responsibility for the initial shortage of COVID-19 tests. “The buck stops here,” he said.

It’s time Ford took the same “buck-stops-here” responsibility for his handling of health care, given just how badly his attempts to cut the system’s way to greatness have failed.

Bob Hepburn is a Star politics columnist based in Toronto.

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