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OHC holds protests in Dryden

Protesters warning of healthcare privatization rally in front of Minister Greg Rickford's office in Dryden.
Ontario Health Coalition protesting outside of Queens Park (photo curiosity of OHC)

DRYDEN – With rural hospitals across northern Ontario at risk of emergency room closures on a regular basis, the Ontario Health Coalition is pushing back against what it calls the province's move to privatize the healthcare system.

Rural hospitals are already straining their operating budgets to afford agency workers, OHC leaders say, but the use of private agencies creates a more competitive market for recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals.

"They're paying triple for agency workers her," said Danielle Morash, an OHC organizer and vice-president of Unifor Local 324. "They're paying their way in. They're paying three times their wages just to come and give them benefits and these sorts of things and there's no investment to bring in these folks that have supported us through the pandemic who are burnt out."

"We need to make an investment to bring these folks back and then we need to fast-track training to get more folks in, but when your province underspends your healthcare budget by $1.7 billion in 2022 right at the end of the pandemic, we're not seeing that investment,” she continued.

The coalition has raised concern over the Ford government's increased use of private nursing agencies and its passage of Bill 60, which expanded the already substantial role of the private sector in Ontario’s health care system.

Morash said more privatization could mean higher wages, reasonable working hours and a better work-life balance, potentially luring more health care workers away from public settings.

“These folks are working overtime. They're committing to putting in all the hours that they can. I mean, these situations can become dangerous when we're so understaffed and so underfunded up in the north,” said Morash.

“We've seen privatization with even our roads up here and the disaster that causes. The dangerous position that they put us in,” Morash added.

Hospitals like Dryden Regional and Sioux Lookout’s Meno Ya Win Healthcare Clinic act as regional hubs where many patients from across northwestern Ontario end up in cases of emergency.

However, since Red Lake’s Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital closed its Saturday morning urgent care clinic due to the Ontario Ministry of Health funding cutback to the Rural Northern Physician Group Agreement decreasing the number of positions of doctors from seven to six, rural hospitals have been feeling the strain of exasperate wait times.  

“Red Lake has been experiencing the threat of rolling emergency department closures and if that happens, they're going to be one of 848 other emergency room closures across the province. We have specialists, but we don't have them on the site. Our surgical departments are being depleted because we don't have committed stuff because of burnout,” explained Morash.

“It's a precarious situation now and then once we fight over labour with the private market, with the for-profit market, it's going to be unprecedented,” continued Morash.

The OHC planned a rally at Kenora–Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford’s office on Monday, to support OHC's larger protest at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

Protests were also occurring at Mini Queen’s Park in Thunder Bay, and the Sault Saint Marie Area Hospital.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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