PERTH - MPP Randy Hillier is dismissing a campaign by hospital unions to fight for more money for the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital as simply fighting for their piece of the pie.
“They are upset with the fact that they are getting a smaller share of the hospital budget,” said the Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP during a telephone interview, following a series of public meetings in Perth and Smiths Falls on Jan. 14 and 15 respectively, seeking more money from the province to bridge the hospital’s $4 million funding gap.
“If the unions had their way, we would still be hiring people to apply leeches as blood letters,” said Hillier.
The meeting was jointly sponsored by the Ontario Health Coalition, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, and OCHU president Michael Hurley pointed charged at the meetings that Hillier was more interested in helping the Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital secure a new site and in getting a new acquired brain injury facility in Napanee.
“I am quite capable of multi-tasking,” he said with a laugh. “I am trying to get money for a redevelopment in Carleton Place…I am looking for more money for the Carleton Place hospital because it is in desperate need of repair. That’s just a fact.”
The unions had also charged at their meeting that fellow Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark, who represents Leeds-Grenville, had fought for additional provincial funding for the Brockville General Hospital.
“Maybe the Brockville hospital is in a similar position to the Carleton Place hospital?” said Hillier, who added that up to $50 million in renovations and additions have been made at both Smiths Falls and Perth hospital facilities over the years, as well as the addition of new ultrasound machines and an expansion of the dialysis services in Smiths Falls.
(However, some of equipment purchases are covered off through the fundraising efforts of the hospital foundation).
Hillier met with Hurley and other union members in December, and while the meeting was cordial, they ended up agreeing to disagree.
“They wanted me to support their view to stop the cutbacks,” said Hillier. “I wasn’t going to oppose something that (are not) cutbacks. Now, they aren’t calling it cutbacks, they’re looking for more money (instead).”
He stressed that the decisions to close the beds was “not a decision from Toronto, this is a local decision. There is no threat of hospital closures.”
Hillier re-stated his position that beds which will be closed this March will not be missed since they are being used by people who should be in other care facilities, or at home. He referred to a study which found that up to 30 per cent of the beds in the local hospital were being taken up with long-term care patients instead of acute care patients.
“It breaks my heart to see people being in a hospital for months and months and months,” said Hillier, who referred to one constituent who was in hospital for six months, “because we couldn’t provide him with a couple of hours a day homecare service…We still need to do significantly more in long-term care.”
There are also financial benefits to be had to putting people in the proper care facilities that they need. A hospital bed, according to Hillier, costs about $1,800 per day, while a long-term care facility bed is down in the low hundreds.
Hillier said he would be willing to meet with the protesters who show up at his Perth constituency office on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at noon, if he is scheduled to be working there that day.
“It’s important for people to express themselves,” he said, but he had concerns that the unions were “expressing falsehoods, not facts.”
While he did not attend the hospital union-sponsored meetings in Perth or Smiths Falls last week, Hillier did urge “anybody who was at those meetings (to) take what was said with a box of salt.”
He also slammed the unions for, what he saw as, putting unnecessary fear into the hearts of seniors.
“(It is) intolerable that the union leadership would elevate these anxieties,” said Hillier. “(That) upsets me the most. It is disingenuous to them.”