Ford government keeps making things worse in health crisis

Even when they try to do the right things, governments often trip over their own feet.

That is what happened late last week and again this week when the Ford government tried to improve the optics around one of the two most contentious issues in Ontario right now — the crisis threatening to break our hospitals.

First, last Friday, Premier Doug Ford called Hamilton Health Sciences CEO Rob MacIsaac to check on how the hospital system is coping in the crisis, particularly around how many children are getting sick at a time when McMaster Children’s Hospital is running at 140 per cent of its capacity. This on the same day HHS reported to the community that it is low on supplies, kids are being cared for on medical wards because the ICU is overwhelmed, and incoming patients face waits as long as 13 hours.

CEO MacIsaac took to social media to thank the premier for his interest, which is not surprising and politically wise, no doubt. But that appreciation was about the only positive reaction Ford’s check-in garnered. Pretty much everyone else slammed it as an empty bit of window dressing. Ford has to be aware of just how bad things are in hospitals across the province, including at HHS. A phone call to share the pain isn’t exactly what patients, families and health workers need at this point.

They need help, not a hug from the premier. More on that later.

Then there was provincial Health Minister Sylvia Jones earlier this week assuring parents that “ … We will continue to make those investments and I want to reassure the parents, when your children need health care in the province of Ontario, you’re getting it and you will continue to get it.”

Well, that’s a relief. Those 13-hour waits, kids not getting ICU care, kids being sent for treatment to adult facilities — they must just be unpleasant anomalies, or perhaps media exaggerations.

Jones no doubt intended to make people feel better, but she ended up sounding horribly out of touch, or even dishonest. Perhaps she meant the most seriously ill children are getting lifesaving treatment. Most experts agree that is true, and is due to effective triage.

But how about the thousands of other kids and families left waiting? They may not need lifesaving intervention — yet. But they are hardly getting appropriate and timely treatment. For Jones to suggest otherwise is, frankly, an insult to those sick kids, families and the health workers Ford cavalierly calls heroes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. On Thursday, we were pleased to publish a commentary by retired Hamilton medical oncologist Mark Levine and his wife Hinda. In their op-ed, they outline four concrete things the province can actually do to help fix the crisis rather than pay lip service. In a nutshell: Ease the burden on family docs by providing for nurse practitioners to work in family physician practices; increase family doc remuneration and training spots and acknowledge the hospital underfunding crisis and modernize the funding formula.

And a very big one: Repeal Bill 124, which freezes nurses’ salaries or caps raises at 1 per cent, which amounts to a pay cut in inflationary times. We have previously called for that more than once. It’s unfair and inequitable legislation which penalizes nurses, especially compared to other comparable front-line workers like police officers and firefighters, who don’t have a similar cap.

You probably know that nurses have left hospitals by the thousands. What you might not know is that the nursing staffing shortage is forcing hospitals to use private agencies to provide nursing staff. Or that nurses employed by such agencies earn considerably more than nurses in the public sector. Or that agencies themselves then charge a premium for their services, which hospitals have to pay.

So rather than give nurses a decent wage increase that keeps pace with inflation, the government is forcing hospitals, which are already strapped, to pay a premium to cover staffing shortages that the government, in part, caused. Now you know that, too. Perhaps you should let Ford and Jones know as well, since they don’t seem to know what is really going on in Ontario hospitals.


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