The emotions were still raw.
That’s why Cambridge Coun. Scott Hamilton’s head was still swirling during his walk home from the special council meeting on May 16. A motion by Coun. Donna Reid in support of a provincewide, citizen-run referendum on Bill 60, Your Health Act, to be held on May 26 and 27 by the Ontario Health Coalition, had just been defeated by a 4-4 tie vote.
The motion to the bill pointed to the provincial government’s “plan to ‘substantially’ expand for-profit clinics and hospitals to take the surgeries and diagnostics out of our local public hospitals.”
Under Bill 60 — which received its third reading in the legislature — MRI and CT scans, cataract surgeries and non-invasive gynecological surgeries can be conducted in not-for-profit and for-profit clinics. Knee and hip replacements are coming in the future, to be paid by OHIP.
Mayor Jan Liggett and councillors Corey Kimpson, Adam Cooper and Nicholas Ermeta voted against the motion, while councillors Ross Earnshaw, Sheri Roberts, Reid and Hamilton voted in favour. Coun. Mike Devine was absent.
The result hit home for Hamilton, who told the Times the day before the meeting he and his brother had to move their father Walter into a long-term-care (LTC) facility 19 months after starting the process.
The wait, in his estimation, was due to LTC privatization. He expects those issues to be mirrored with for-profit health care.
The process was arduous, Hamilton said, as Walter was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia (LBD). The affliction is similar to Alzheimer’s disease, but LBD takes hold quicker. Living in a retirement facility, his father’s condition deteriorated to the point where staff couldn’t properly accommodate his needs.
On the list for a spot in an LTC for more than a year, Hamilton and his brother watched their father slowly move up on the list at homes they selected for him — 61st, 42nd, 10th. He said legislation introduced in 2022 to send chronically ill patients to LTC homes without the need for consent slowed Walter’s rise on the list.
“It basically shored up all the beds so the normal person that needed a LTC couldn’t get in. And they said that will never change,” Hamilton said.
To move up the list quicker, Hamilton said, a person’s condition had to deteriorate to the point where they become “a medical crisis.” His father reached that stage. When a spot was opened for him, the family had 24 hours to accept and two days to move him in. If they refused the spot, he would be taken off the crisis list and that would affect his level of care.
“To me, there’s just so many incredible overlaps between what happened with Ontario’s long-term care homes and how they were privatized and how we see the levels of service suffering, how we see staff shortages, how we see more attrition and what’s happening with our publicly funded health care,” Hamilton said.
“I’ll always go down swinging in defence of universal public health care in Canada. Health care is something that’s based on need, not how much money you have in your pocket to pay for a particular service.
“My dad’s experience with the health care system and long-term care and how rough it was, that motion, it was really real for me and really sad the decision went the way it did.”
Hamilton added that health care privatization is a slippery slope, with seniors on fixed incomes, or low-income families who need health care the most, seeing those that can pay for services “jump the queue to get to the top.”
That was something Dr. Mike Lawrie, of the Waterloo Region Health Coalition (WRHC), warned council about on May 16 if hospital services were reduced and the province continued “farming” services to for-profit clinics.
Lawrie said the writing has been on the wall for the last few years, with the government not spending $900 million slated for health care and looking to cut health care funding by $5 billion by 2024. In that time, he claimed, funding for private health care facilities doubled.
He was backed up WRHC volunteer Atinuke Bankole, who said pushing private for-profit clinics will erode Cambridge Memorial Hospital to the point it may be annexed in the coming decades.
“What we want to see is the proper and maximum use of all that pent-up capital in our hospital used in the public sector, not privatized to clinics who will make a profit off it and instead leave us with worse care,” she said.
Coun. Kimpson, however, wasn’t convinced private medical services will be a death knell for the health care system. She cited labs and medical imaging clinics the public can choose and access, and not have to pay out of their own pocket.
She added that the hospital already has relationships with private providers for endoscopy and cataracts as well.
“There is a lot of confusion about this bill,” Kimpson said. “The bill is about increasing access to health care by allowing certain procedures to be performed outside of a hospital setting at no charge to the patient.”
Coun. Ermeta backed up Kimpson, saying he uses private clinics all the time and never has to pay out of pocket. He added he “didn’t have enough information” to vote for the motion.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Coun. Scott Hamilton contacted the Times to expand upon his thoughts on why he was disappointed with council’s decision not to back a citizen-led referendum about Ontario health care privatization.