Warning of the potential pitfalls of privatization of healthcare services, particularly on long-term care homes, the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is planning a number of “emergency summits” across the province, including in Waterloo Region.
“It’s very severely damaging to our public health care. It takes money away from patient care for multinational for-profit companies,” said OHC executive director Natalie Mehra.
The provincial government is already taking steps towards privatization, Mehra said.
“At this point they’re privatizing everything from public health functions like COVID testing and vaccinations to public hospital services like surgeries and diagnostics. They’re privatizing long-term care and home care,” she argued.
Waterloo Region’s summit will be held virtually on April 5 at 7 p.m.
“We’re trying to alert the people who live in our region to the serious threat to our hospital services, because of the privatization plan that Mr. Ford has for diagnostic and surgical services to be removed from public hospitals and transferred to private clinics,” said Jim Stewart of the regional chapter of the coalition.
Both Mehra and Stewart pointed to possible privatization of long-term care beds as a concern. Out of 30,000 new and planned long-term care beds, 18,000 will be in for profit facilities, said Stewart.
“For-profit facilities [have] proven to be very poor performers during a pandemic,” Stewart added.
Mehra said Bill 37, the new long-term care act, is not good enough and there is nothing enforceable about it.
“There are a lot of claims that the government made about that new long-term care act, but most of them are either meaningless or manipulative,” said Mehra.
While the act has a target of four hours of care per resident per day by 2024 that is only the average across the province, Mehra explained.
“What they claimed was that the act would create a minimum care standard for long-term care, something that we’ve been fighting for for 20 years, but it doesn’t,” she said.
“Public homes have the most hours of care per resident per day, the non-profits the second most, and the for profits have the least.”
The act also reduces the number of standards of inspection and does not change anything to make sure that care homes provide an adequate level of care, Mehra said.
It’s all very carefully worded and manipulative, but there’s no actual minimum care standard that anybody could enforce against any single home in that act,” she said.
Even if there was greater regulation there is no place for private, for-profit care homes, Mehra said.
“The problem with saying ‘we can let them have private for profit long term care and regulate them’ is that we have fought for 20 years to try and regulate them and they oppose regulation…it gets in the way of their profits,” she explained.
“For-profit long-term care does not work. We have many decades of history and the 4,500 people that died in the pandemic just of COVID alone, plus thousands more of neglect and starvation and dehydration. Just total lack of care.”
A University of Waterloo study published in December showed that for-profit long-term care facilities had worse patient outcomes and higher mortality rates than non-profit facilities during the pandemic.
“Nursing homes with the highest profit margins have the lowest quality as financialized ownership and are even more aggressive in seeking to extract value from care homes and the people who live and work in them,” the study read.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandera Hilkene called the claims made by Mehra “categorically false.”
“To be clear, the government is committed to supporting the province’s public health care system. The use or function of private hospitals and independent health facilities in Ontario is not being expanded or changed,” Hilkene said.