Health-care workers from across the region taped signs to their backs, waved flags and blew their whistles outside Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) today to speak out against the privatization of Ontario’s health-care system.
Approximately 100 people were expected to turn out over the course of the two-hour rally outside the Barrie hospital, in conjunction with other similar rallies hosted by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) across the province.
Elizabeth Watts, a medical radiation technologist and president OPSEU Local 346, which represents medical radiation technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers and a variety of laboratory staff at RVH, was one of the loudest voices Thursday.
Watts said the local union wants to bring attention to Bill 60, which she said poses a threat to the regulation of those health-care professions as well as to the safe delivery of health services.
“We are here today because Bill 60 has been pushed through, and it’s going to allow for the privatization of our public hospitals," she told BarrieToday. "Within the bill, it deregulates our profession and allows for the emergency measures that were put in place during COVID to become permanent, which means you’re not getting the same level of care anymore if the director of a private clinic can appoint a lab technologist to do work they’re not trained to do.
“Working on the front lines, the biggest thing we need now is people. We don’t need more buildings," Watts added. "We need them to address the staffing crisis so we can properly care for our patients. We have the facilities here (and) we can get back to offering really great care, (but) the solution is not opening more private clinics. The solution is investing in us and investing now.”
The existing health-care system is universal, she said, and the creation of a private, two-tiered system will destroy that.
“The private clinics are only going to take the easy cases. They’re going to take those ones where there are no co-morbidities, complications or risk factors, so we are going to see an extra strain on the public system, but with less resources because now we have to share our resources with the private sector,” Watts said.
In addition to RVH staff, the rally received support from other local health-care unions, including OPSEU Local 329, which represents staff at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene.
“We wanted to show solidarity," said Justin Legros, president of OPSEU Local 329 at Waypoint. "We have one health-care system and it’s under attack from every angle. An attack on one is an attack on all at this point.
"The privatization thing is really scary," Legros added. "We have seen a huge influx of agency staff in our facility this year. It’s eroding our bargaining unit, the quality of care is going down and it’s basically just taxpayer money going into private pockets."
Local 346 OPSEU vice-president and medical laboratory assistant Stef Wall said she's scared about what this bill will mean not only for workers but to Ontarians in need of care.
“It’s scary for that 50 per cent of our public surgeries are going to be moved to for-profit and private clinics and I am just really worried about the care of our patients and the future of our health care with a two-tiered system," Wall told BarrieToday.
Seeing and hearing the support they were receiving from people driving by and honking their horns was “wonderful,” she acknowledged.
“We are just trying to get the news out there. The public doesn’t know that this is what our government is doing," Wall said.
"They are taking your health care right from under your nose."