‘People’s Referendum’ targets health care privatization for profit

Numerous people stopped outside Hotel Dieu Hospital to cast ballots in what the Ontario Health Coalition is calling a People’s Referendum. Photo By Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics?”

This is the ballot question posed by the Kingston Health Coalition (KHC) in what they are calling a “People’s Referendum” on the expansion of for-profit health care. They hope citizens will vote a resounding “No.”

The KHC is a local group affiliated with the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) that “supports public health care for all.” Health coalitions across Ontario gathered today to launch what they are calling “a major fight back to stop the privatization of our public hospitals.” The Kingston launch of The People’s Referendum kicked off Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2023, at 11:30 a.m. on Brock Street in front of Hotel Dieu Hospital.  

“Canadians are proud and protective of their hard-won universal public health care system. Research has repeatedly proven that a for-profit health care system is inferior to the public system; for-profit health care is more expensive, has worse outcomes, and limits access for Ontarians,” said KHC co-chair Joan Jardin.  

Jardin noted that while the group recognizes that their community-led referendum is not binding, it is nonetheless important because “people want to be heard.” Their People’s Referendum is aimed at giving people a say on the move by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government toward for-profit health care, she explained.

The KHC’s kickoff event included a model voting station accepting advance votes for the referendum. Volunteers spoke to passersby, many of whom stopped to chat after coming from various appointments inside the hospital.

Gerard Courneya of Napanee was intrigued by the presentation as he and his wife, Helen, left Hotel Dieu. He was frustrated that their family physician, Dr. Craig Mitchell, had closed his practice, leaving them without a family doctor.

They had recently seen a news story about a new opportunity for those without family doctors to attend a clinic at Queen’s School of Medicine; the catch was that there was a charge of $500 per family per year, “That adds up,” Gerard Courneya said.

“And why should people have to pay?” questioned Helen Cournyea.

“If that’s true,” KHC co-chair Ross Sutherland pointed out, “it’s very much illegal.”

Kingstonist reached out to Queen’s University about the news report in question, which was erroneous in its assertion that the clinic Queen’s School of Health Sciences is currently planning will be for-profit.

“There was an error in the Global News story that aired on Monday April 17 regarding plans for a potential Health Home in Kingston. Patients will not be charged to access care, should a new Health Home be opened,” Queen’s said in an email to Kingstonist.

Gerard and Helen Courneya of Napanee stopped by to gather information and joined in a conversation about how health care has fallen short for them lately. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Nonetheless, Sutherland said he is seeing the for-profit model more and more: people are being asked to pay for care that should be covered by Ontario’s health care plan (OHIP). He gave the example of Focus Eye Centre in Kingston. “We’ve talked to people at Focus who were told by their surgeon that if they went and got laser surgery for $4,000 now, they could get the surgery in a few weeks, whereas if they waited for their OHIP, it would be at least a six-month wait.”

“In other words,” continued Sutherland, “for $4,000 you can jump the line.”

Courneya interjected, “That’s what they told me down here” — indicating another eye care clinic — “if you pay up right now, we can do your cataract (surgery) in a few weeks. If not, you’ve got to wait eight or nine months.”

“But that’s what we don’t want in Canada,” said Sutherland. “We’ve never had that. It’s terrible. People should get the care they need.”

Many who had gathered around the small animated group, including the Courneyas, voiced their agreement.

Both co-chairs of KHC are deeply concerned about quality control, conflict of interest, patient accessibility, control of upselling and extra billing, and the costs at for-profit centres. They pointed out that recent decisions of the provincial government have been prioritizing for-profit private clinics with extra funding, rather than supporting public hospitals and solving the staffing crisis. The Ontario government has also introduced legislation, they said, to shield for-profit clinics and hospitals from public scrutiny. 

The KHC indicates that they have heard from many people who have felt pressured to have treatments not covered by the Ontario health plan, often costing thousands of dollars.  

Many of the people who stopped in the chilly weather to cast a ballot did so immediately after or before attending appointments at Hotel Dieu. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

For the rest of April and most of May, the KHC will be informing people, through discussions, flyers, and advertisements, on the impact of for-profit clinics. And there will be voting stations in public areas and workplaces across the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington region beginning April 18, with the main community voting days being May 26 and 27.

A list of voting stations will be announced in May; more than a thousand physical voting stations will be open across Ontario. Online voting will also be available throughout the month of May on the Ontario Health Coalition website, PublicHospitalVote.ca.

2 thoughts on “‘People’s Referendum’ targets health care privatization for profit

  • I was unable to share from your share buttons. Shared with a coy link.

  • It has become a commonplace for our governments to get away with too much by the simple expedient of endlessly pointing fingers at each other. Our Constitution is a hopeless mess, and was even before 1982 – as ably described by Andrew Coyne in his article “If our leaders were corrupt, would we know it?” Health care is just one example. Housing is another. We really do need to DO something and soon.
    Maybe Canadians should start thinking about – and having a beer together over – the question of what some alternatives could look like.

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