Elizabeth VanHoutte's father died on a stretcher in the Emergency Department at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital. There were no beds available.
"He spent 72 hours there, on a stretcher" VanHoutte said. "We have to rally people to stop the cuts happening in our hospitals.
"We're all sitting here feeling helpless, wondering what we can do. The cuts that are happening are heart-breaking for the people who work at the hospital. It's devastating for patients . . . this is disgusting."
Ontario's Health Coalition came to Orillia Tuesday night, one of dozens of stops across the province as they rally volunteers to fight for fair funding for community hospitals.
“We are calling a volunteer-led referendum to try to make the public’s overwhelming opposition to the cuts to their local community hospitals so visible, so impossible to ignore, that the Ontario government is forced, finally, to listen,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.
“We know that the overwhelming majority of Ontarions want the cuts to be stopped and services restored as a top priority issue, but people need a way to make their voices heard. That’s what we are trying to do.”
The group is calling for volunteers to hold a referendum across the province on May 28, hoping to get over 100,000 votes against cuts.
Coalition representatives held a town hall in Orillia on Tuesday evening, attracting a standing room only crowd of over 150 at the Best Western Mariposa Inn, one week after Soldiers' Memorial Hospital announced it would be cutting 16 beds and 48 full and part-time jobs - the equivalent of 35 full time positions.
Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Hospital has announced cutting 56 jobs to balance the budget
In Midland, community members are fighting to save the birthing unit as the hospital faces a $10 million shortfall.
"That's 70,000 hours of care that will be lost," said Sara Labelle, coalition representative. "Ontario has the fewest hospital beds left than any other province in Canada."
Armed with statistics showing nine years of reduced hospital funding across the province, P said a referendum will be a "stronger voice" for government action than a petition.
"They are pushing services out into the community where you get less for more money," she said. "The people of Orillia and Midland shouldn't have to travel to Barrie or Toronto for health care services they need."
The group is asking for two commitments from the province. The first is to restore adequate funding for hospitals and the second is to ensure that spending is focused on "care and services" and not administration.
"It is so frustrating to watch those salaries go through the roof, and the same time as cuts are being made to care and services at our community hospitals," Labelle said, to loud applause and cheers.
If the referendum is successful, organizers say communities will get the attention of politicians who can make changes.
"We will have a fighting chance to stop the cuts,"
The Ontario Health Coalition represents more than 400 organizations and a network of Local Health Coalitions and individual members including seniors’ groups, patients’ organizations, unions, nurses and health professionals’ organizations; physicians and physician organizations.
Labelle says the challenge is "getting huge numbers of votes" in the referendum. "We need volunteers to help staff voting stations on the big vote day," she said, encouraging the Orillia crowd to sign up and find locations to hold the referendum locally.
"Almost every hospital in every town in Ontario has lost services, beds and vital care staff," she said. "All across Ontario, hospital beds, emergency departments, birthing and surgical units, palliative care and even entire hospitals are being closed down."
To get involved or learn more about the referendum, visit ontariohealthcoalition.ca.