Jack Brezina: Universal, accessible and publicly-funded
|By Jack Brezina - Contributing Writer | March 14, 2019|
There isn’t a government that hasn’t worried about the state of our health care system. Funded for the most part by tax dollars, both federal and provincial, the health care system represents the largest single expenditure the province makes. As such, it is a ready target for criticism and grand plans that will “fix it” once and for all. Virtually every government since the universal health care model was adopted, has promised to improve how it operates. Most efforts were undertaken with the best of intentions, some succeeded while others missed the mark.
It was, then, with more than a passing interest that we watched the current Doug Ford Conservative government announce plans to revamp the entire system and make it better.
Now, there is no doubt there are aspects of our health care system that could be improved. I am just not sure the entire structure needs to be reinvented to accomplish that goal. In fact, I wonder if it is even possible to reshape the entire Ontario health care system in the quick-step time frame the minister has outlined and have something viable emerge at the end of the process.
My concerns are shared by many who are familiar with the operation of the health ministry. Shortly after the announcement, a former deputy minister of health, Dr. Bob Bell, expressed doubts in the Toronto Star about not only the feasibility of the overall reform, but the massive scope.
Our own MPP, Laurie Scott, who worked as a nurse in the system before becoming a politician, has of course endorsed the bold move, calling for greater co-ordination within the system, a reduction in bureaucracy and the elimination of “silo medicine.” She suggested the health care system is “not working.” The premier campaigned on a call to eliminate what he called hallway medicine.
While I share any government’s commitment to improving the system, the answer to hallway medicine has been well known for years. Our hospitals are clogged with people who should be in long-term care or mental health facilities or receiving care at home. Investing in more long-term facilities and homecare services would allow these so-called bed blockers to move out of acute care facilities and open beds for those patients who would be more appropriately treated in a hospital setting. Long-term care facilities and mental health beds do not appear magically overnight and neither do health professionals trained to deliver services in those facilities or in homes. So, starting on a program to increase the number of long-term care beds and training of the nurses and PSWs to provide the needed services is the obvious answer to the problem of hallway medicine.
I also take issue with the suggestion the system is “not working.” My personal experience is that the health care system has been there when I needed it and delivered the services required adequately and efficiently. Acquaintances who have experienced more serious reasons to seek out treatment, have reported positive encounters, with their needs being met in a proficient and timely manner. That is not to say there are some who have found the system less than perfect.
That being said, my biggest concern, when I hear a government say it wants to rebuild the entire system, is that somewhere in this massive undertaking is an as yet to be revealed plan to chip away at the universal health care system we enjoy in this province and country. I fear the call for less bureaucracy and greater efficiencies may mean selling off portions of the system to for-profit entities that will take the health care system out of public control and put it in the hands of private companies. Scott has stated this is not the aim of this undertaking, and I would like to take her word. However, we should all keep a close eye on what is unfolding and not let this, or any provincial government, take away what we have fought long and hard to establish: universal health care for all.
Jack Brezina is a contributing writer for The Highlander.