Pressure Increases on Provincial Government to Act on Healthcare Issues

After white-knuckling through a long weekend where at least 14 Ontario hospitals experienced closures or capacity issues, all eyes have turned to the Provincial government as demands get louder for immediate action. Even after a series of media interviews by the new health minister, plus a rare mid-summer appearance of the premier at an event this morning, there’s still no sign that the government is getting in a crisis mode.

On Wednesday morning, Premier Doug Ford was in Stratford dealing with another labour shortage, the one in manufacturing and skilled trades. After touring the DYNA-MIG plant and announcing a $5 million investment in the auto sector to train skilled workers for the industry, Ford took questions from the media, and those questions were about healthcare. The premier put the blame in a very specific place: The Federal government.

“It’s not sustainable that the Federal government is giving us 22 per cent. We’re paying 78 per cent. And that’s across the country. Unacceptable,” Ford said at the presser. “We’re going to continue asking the federal government to step up and do their fair share. There’s never been a more important time to do so.”

Health Minister Sylvia Jones spent her morning (on social media anyway) touting the inclusion of a French language option for Ontario Health Cards. An important issue to do be sure, but Jones failed to reveal any substantive action to help Ontario hospitals in numerous press appearances on Tuesday. Despite a reassuring tone, Jones refused twice in an appearance on CP24 to acknowledge whether the series of shutdowns is acceptable.

“I want to reassure people that Ontario Health is a major part of the plan to work with those local hospitals to make sure that they have the capacity and all the options have been put on the table,” Jones said.

The Opposition parties have been savage in their appraisal of the government and their reaction.

“If Jones doesn’t find this mess to be unacceptable, how bad is she prepared to let our health care system get?” said NDP health critic France Gélinas in a statement. “Seriously sick patients are being moved. Long waits and hallway medicine are rampant. And some people will rush to ER only to find the doors locked.”

“As the Premier and Minister of Health, they should be standing front and centre to fix this ongoing crisis, yet Doug Ford and Sylvia Jones are consistently nowhere to be found,” said Liberal MPP Dr. Adil Shamji, who is a former emergency room physician and is now the representative for Don Valley East.

“By repeatedly ignoring the needs of our healthcare system and not valuing our healthcare workers, their neglect is compromising care for patients across Ontario,” Shamji added. “There is no excuse for this government’s inaction.”

Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner agrees and added that Ford’s passing of the buck to the Federal government doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s still in a pretty influential position himself.

“A reminder to Doug Ford: You are the Premier of this province. You need to stop comparing Ontario’s healthcare challenges to the ones that exist in other provinces, as if we just need to accept the status quo. Your job is to fix Ontario’s healthcare system,” Schreiner said. “Today we have another day, and yet another signal from this government proving they don’t fully understand the severe crisis facing our healthcare system.”

Among Schreiner’s suggestions are the immediate repeal of Bill 124 and committing to fair bargaining processes for all healthcare workers, plus implementing permanent raises for all healthcare workers, closing the gap in compensation between public and private health care workers, improving working conditions including a strategy to end violence against staff, providing onsite childcare and other workplace supports, and increasing support for primary, community and home care providers to ease pressure on hospitals.

“We know there are numerous options still on the table that nurses and unions have been requesting for months. Options that go beyond a one-time bonus,” Schreiner added. “We need real solutions to fully compensate, reward and support frontline healthcare workers for providing care to our loved ones.”

The Ontario Nurses’ Association released a statement before the weekend saying that they had heard about the closure of beds and units at 14 different hospitals before the long weekend. They called it a “symptom of the province-wide neglect of our dedicated registered nurses and health-care professionals” that existed before the pandemic and has been exacerbated by it.

“ONA members have been sickened, are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, are exhausted and continue to face infection with COVID-19 due to the relaxing of public health protections. Workplace violence is on the increase,” the statement read.

“There are solutions and ONA has been urging the province to work with us to urgently implement measures to ease this crisis. We continue to call for the government to sit down with ONA and other health-care unions. We cannot wait any longer to resolve this crisis that is harming Ontarians and their access to health care.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour and OPSEU, who represent a lot of workers in healthcare, are planning a rally on the lawn of Queen’s Park at noon on Monday August 8. The Speech from the Throne will be delivered on Tuesday.

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