The true measure of success for any social program or service provided by a government is how few people fall through the cracks. What is the failure rate? How many miss the boat? Locally, this point was made by SDG Counties Councillor and North Dundas Deputy Mayor Allan Armstrong in 2021. While advocating for an additional land ambulance in SDG Counties he said a high level of service most of the time is no good to the person in the minority not receiving service in time. It’s a valid point when considering anything to do with critical health care, including at Ontario hospitals.
This is why comments made by Premier Doug Ford regarding the state of the health care system are disappointing. On August 3, he said that 90 per cent of people going to emergency departments “are getting taken care of within the health parameters.” But what about the other 10 per cent? In 2018, Ford was elected with a promise to end hallway health care. The effects of COVID-19 pandemic eradicated any progress made on this front. Two-and-a-half years later, the health care system in the province is beyond its breaking point – it is broken.
Ford claims “we’re throwing everything we possibly can at the health system.” But that is not really true. Yes, bricks and mortar spending is happening – more buildings renovated, new buildings constructed, and more planning for more buildings. Buildings are important – so are the people inside. The reason our health care system in Ontario is broken is the lack of people in those buildings.
Ontario has a shortage of staff in the medical profession – one that has been building for decades. What began in rural areas with the exodus of general practitioner doctors and an inability to attract new doctors has reached larger populations. The emergency room has become a family medical clinic for many. Staff at those facilities are stretched too thin because there simply are not enough staff to meet the need.
For registered nurses and other medical professionals, capped salary increases and stressful work conditions provide little incentive to work in clinics and hospitals. For those who do, burnout is frequent. Having fewer staff means when a COVID-19 outbreak occurs, services are shuttered. One example of this is the hospital in Perth, where the emergency room was shuttered for 25 days. Ford says he is “throwing everything at it” but the evidence points elsewhere. Now the spectre of privatization has reared its ugly head into the conversation – with much backpedalling by elected officials. To be clear, private, for profit health care is incompatible with a public health care system – full stop.
There are some things that Ford can do to address these issues including removing the wage constraints placed under Bill 124. This measure will see pay increases for medical staff are in line with inflationary pressures, staunching the bleeding of people leaving the profession. The province can further speedup the certification process for medical workers with out-of-country training, a measure that will add thousands of new potential staff. A longer-term solution is to increase the number of places in university for potential doctors, reversing actions by Ford’s predecessors.
The province’s Financial Accountability Office reported in July that Ontario spent $7.2 billion less than budgeted last year – so clearly there is room in the budget to spend where it is needed. More staff in buildings means better outcomes, and ensuring 100 per cent of those who use the medical system receive equitable attention and consideration.