Kara Brulotte – OTTAWA • ON | 27-3-2023
The Ontario health care system is a controversial topic. Our universal health care is not as simple as the title suggests, being more similar to a two tiered health care system. Some hospitals are government run, but many clinics are actually privately owned. Most family doctors are part of private practices, and sleep tests, physiotherapy, and dermatology are all private services incorporated into the public system. All these services, public or private, are paid for with an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card. Now, there are services such as optometry and dentistry that are paid for out of pocket or by private insurance, but these do not encompass the majority of health care.
The most striking fact about our current health care system, especially coming out of the pandemic, is the capacity. There are not enough beds, equipment, or staff to handle the number of patients that are coming in. Just this October, wait times in emergency rooms are insanely high, with CHEO patients having to wait more than 14 hours for care. The Montfort Hospital had patients waiting more than 16 hours, and the Ottawa General Hospital had to open up their gymnasium to house the overflow of patients. This leads to patients having a much harder time assessing the care they require, even in emergency situations. It can take years to access specialists or to receive surgeries, for cases that aren’t at the top of the priority list. Staff are also a victim of the current system, with skeleton crews becoming the norm over the pandemic. Conditions have gotten increasingly worse, to the point where 42% of nurses saying they would leave the profession, and 69% saying they would leave their current position, in the next five years, according to a survey from the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Micheal Hurley has said this level of strain on the system is not normal, and that there is something dramatically wrong with the lack of capacity and staffing.
As a result of these problems and their worsening due to the Covid pandemic, Premier Doug Ford has put several changes into motion in order to help with the surgical backlog, namely integrating private surgery clinics into public hospitals. Here in Ottawa, the private surgery group Academic Orthopaedic Surgical Associates of Ottawa is operating in unoccupied surgical suites at the Ottawa Hospital’s Riverside campus to do simple knee and hip procedures. The group is asking nurses to work on weekends, and compensating them more than their regular pay. However, this is more than a temporary measure, as Premier Ford said this will be implemented permanently. There are worries that these independent clinics will poach staff from the public system and decrease quality of care, with CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahnn saying that privatization will only worsen staff shortages and rob public health care of resources. Many are worried about this expanded use of independent clinics, with co-chair of Ottawa Health Coalition Betty Yakimenko saying that this could diminish public health care.
The overwhelming pressure on it is leading to suffering for both patients and staff, with the strain being unbearable in the aftermath of the pandemic. However, the solution can be complicated. The integration of more independent clinics isn’t widely supported, but something still must be done about the surgery backlog. The logistics of adding more private elements to the public health system are unclear, with a lack of transparency from the government and clinic owners. This is an issue that will continue to plague the Canadian population, particularly as our population continues to age.