On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, hundreds of health care workers and other front-line staff at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) took to Breakwater Park for a rally against what they say are the provincial government’s efforts to privatize elements of Ontario’s public health care system. At the rally, leaders from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) were all on hand to unveil a banner with signatures from members who have “signed on to the anti-privatization fight,” noted a press release issued in advance of the event.
“Over the course of the last two months, we’ve been gathering signatures from our members… so that we can take them and present them to the government as a stance against [the] privatization of our health care services,” stated Barb DeRoche, president of CUPE Local 1974, in an interview with Kingstonist.
As for what members are most worried about, DeRoche pointed to the provincial government’s recent push to privatize certain aspects of Ontario’s health care system, including the expansion of private clinics through the government’s controversial Bill 60, Your Health Act, 2023.
“Our concern,” DeRoche said, “is that the private clinics and the privatization plan the [Doug] Ford government has [are] actually dismantling our public health care system. We know that the private clinics cost more, and it’s taking the funding out of public hospitals, and a majority of that money is going back into private clinics.”
DeRoche added that, since July 2021, the province has spent millions of dollars in private and for-profit health care services, including a July 2021 commitment by the government to invest $24 million in Independent Health Facilities (IHFs) to “increase health system capacity through community alternatives to hospital care.”
“These clinics are not just using our public health care funding… They’re also upselling services to patients to be part of these clinics. So it’s creating a system of haves and have-nots; those that can afford to get the care will get it in advance of people who are only going to be able to rely on our public [services],” remarked the union president.
In terms of how union members at KHSC have been impacted by the push toward privatization, DeRoche explained that it has already led to an “exodus of staff,” exacerbating shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “These private clinics, they’re actually just taking the new staff out of the hospitals [and] into these [IHFs]. So the staffing crisis that we’re already facing in the hospital system is only going to get worse,” she said.
“We’re not going to have enough people to staff our hospitals, so that will just increase wait times and surgery times for people accessing services in the [public] hospital system,” DeRoche warned.
With multiple unions coming together as part of Tuesday’s rally, DeRoche said there is “solidarity” among the hospital workers.
“We’re all facing the same challenges. [There] is solidarity amongst the groups; we’re the superpower. It’s human resources that the hospital system needs. As the unions, we represent everybody, all of the classifications… that provide those services,” she said. “We’re [doing this] not only for our members, but for our communities. Without people to staff the hospital… it’s just going to devastate our services further.”
With thousands of health care workers joining together in the fight against privatization across the province, the next step locally is for the KHSC petition to be presented to representatives from the Ministry of Health at Queen’s Park. As for what members are hoping to get out of this fight, DeRoche said, “We are asking our [hospital] CEOs and CEOs across the province to stand up and publicly announce that they stand against privatization. We want to see this [Progressive Conservative] government, and any government going forward, properly fund our public health care system.”