Health coalition counters MPP’s allegations.
MPP Randy Hillier points an accusatory finger at protesters outside of his Perth constituency office last month during a protest against hospital cuts.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is taking MPP Randy Hillier to task for comments made last week in which he alleged that the organization had engaged in fear mongering about the future of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital.
“Mr. Hillier keeps attacking people who are fighting the cuts,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, during a telephone interview from Toronto.
Just days earlier, the Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP told a protest in front of his constituency office that the OHC was responsible for a “distortion of the facts,” using the term “fear mongering” in the debate about cuts to beds and services at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital.
“Mr. Hillier is trying to make himself the issue. It is a distraction from the main issue,” said Mehra, who was in Perth and Smiths Falls last month for a series of public meetings seeking to galvanize public support to fight the cuts. “It’s disturbing. I don’t know why anyone is willing to defend those cuts. Mr. Hillier is not the real story.”
Some of the protesters invited Hillier to a public meeting on Monday, Feb. 4 about the issue. While the driving force behind the opposition to the cuts is the local Save Our Services (SOS) Health Coalition, Mehra called inviting Hillier to the meeting a “bad strategy.” While stressing that all SOS meetings are open to any interested member of the public, she added that “I don’t want our meetings being hijacked. We don’t need to debate that service cuts are service cuts for four weeks. I advocate that we move on.”
Mehra added that “it defies reason” why Hillier would continue to say that the reduction in beds and staff are not cuts.
“It’s not that there are dozens of people sitting around doing nothing waiting to be cut,” she said of the hospital staffers. Even a cut of one person, in this case, in the physio-therapy department, would affect staff-to-patient ratios.
“The rally was to get Randy to stand up and fight for our services. Clearly that was not successful,” said Mehra. “All of those things have a relation to quality of care.”
Last month, Hillier said that “I’m going to respect local decisions,” noting that it was specifically the board of directors of the hospital which made the decision to cut 12 beds as a way of bridging the $4 million deficit.
“He is defending the service cuts for the health minister,” said Mehra. “The health minister must be laughing at the whole situation, at which the local MPP is trying to facilitate (the cuts)… To pretend it is a local choice is not true.”
In her estimation, hospital boards are required to eliminate deficits “even if it means eliminating necessary health services. This government is playing super-hardball with the hospitals.” And if the boards do run a deficit, board members can be fined, and the chief administrative officer can be fired.
“Even the previous conservative government did not do that,” said Mehra of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves years. “They funded out the deficits.”
While Hillier stated that the 12 beds that were closed down were not needed because they were being taken up by people who should have been in long-term care, Mehra contends that “they are needed. There is no place to put them.”
Last week, Hillier went on record as saying that he does believe that private enterprise does have a place in the public health care system.
“I do believe we need some additional clinics, like the Shouldice Hospital,” said Hillier of the for-profit hernia hospital in Markham, Ont. “We need to give people a greater choice of options.”
But Mehra countered this position, saying Hillier “needs to learn a lot about health care.”
Speaking of the Shouldice Hospital specifically, she noted that “they are not making enough money. They are trying to sell it. It’s hardly a model.”
She also does not see an increased presence from the private sector as being viable in rural areas.
“In rural eastern Ontario, you are not going to have specialty private hospitals,” she said. “You are going to have larger, general hospitals. They (private hospitals) drive up costs in health care. It’s not a model that would work in rural Ontario. There are not enough people to make it profitable. Privatization would move services out of your area.”
Mehra also underlined that there had been “an attempt to play on anti-union bias,” in the area.
“There is no hidden agenda,” said Mehra. “The interests of the unions and the public are aligned.”
In the coming days, a petition will be working its way through the area, and the group is planning a leaflet drop in the area soon.