Whistleblower exhibit shows issues plaguing health care system

A woman views David Julian Wightman's photojournalism exhibit taken at Club SAW

Lauren Roulston • Jul 22, 2023

A picture of David Julian Wightman’s photojournalism exhibit, taken at Club SAW on Wednesday (Arya Gunde/CHUO).


David Julian Wightman is an independent journalist and community activist.

After working as a cleaner at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, he released an exposé with The Leveller called “Code SOS for Public Healthcare.” In the article, he decries the hospital’s treatment of its patients and staff. He cites inadequate pay and short-staffing as a point of downfall for the institution.

For Wightman, the lack of urgency or response from the administration is destroying the working conditions for its already-strained employees.

He took pictures during his two-year employment at the Civic. Many depict piles of garbage bags, stacked and left in soiled back rooms.

Several of Wightman’s photos show bags stacked up and left in piles, (Lauren Roulston/CHUO).

The overflowing garbage cans and trash piles are a consequence of understaffing as they’re unable to properly maintain the facility, writes Wightman.

On Wednesday, he held a photojournalism exhibit at Club SAW showcasing the photo collection he gathered as a housekeeper.

The photo series also depicts broken equipment, water-damaged ceilings, graffitied walls, and an abundance of hand-written “Out of Order” signs.

Patient outcomes are also worsening as a result of the circumstances Wightman details in the exposé. He writes that these conditions occur, “to entrench corporate control and maximize profits.”

Wightman points to corporate profits as the driving force for undervaluing workers and withering patient care in the moves toward privatization.

“The failures of the Ottawa Hospital are the direct result of an administration that is viciously attacking its employees — especially so-called ‘low-skilled’ workers — and treating patients as inconvenient bodies that must be fed, cleaned, and discharged at ever-increasing rates of profit,” he writes.

Cameron Love, President and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital, earned a pay increase of 59.6 per cent over the years since 2019 according to Ontario’s public sector salary disclosure.

Insufficient wage growth and significant short-staffing have been the subject of tribulation for many employees in the Ontario Public Sector.

Sixty per cent of Ottawa nurses were considering quitting due to understaffing and low wages, according to a poll released this year.

Meaning in Ottawa, 1200 nurses working at hospitals represented by CUPE have considered whether they will continue with the profession, according to the study conducted by Nanos Research.

A contributing factor is a 2019 Ontario legislation introduced by Premier Doug Ford. Bill 124 capped public sector wage increases at one per cent per year.

The Financial Accountability Office warned in a report last year that, “wage growth remains below inflation for employees in the Ontario Public Sector, resulting in real wage declines.”

An arbitration decision released on Thurs, Jul. 20, 2023 awarded Ontario nurses average wage increases of 11 per cent over two years. It’s the first contract since the wage restraint of Bill 124.

The decision doesn’t apply to other hospital workers but may signal support for their cause.

Wightman says that Love’s administration has allowed the Civic Hospital to collapse by denying adequate work conditions for staff while allocating funds toward a $3-billion hospital to be built on parkland at Dow’s Lake.

The new campus development is Ottawa’s largest-ever health infrastructure project at 2.5 million sq. ft. on a 50-acre site.

Plans for the new Ottawa Hospital development from the City of Ottawa.

The hospital will be the first to be built on the private-public partnership model.

Healthcare privatization is growing in Ottawa and throughout the province, as seen in the increased role of privatized clinics.

In May, the Ontario government passed a health-reform bill that will allow more private clinics to perform certain publicly funded surgeries and procedures.

“The onus is on us here in Ottawa to really push hard to stop the privatization of the healthcare system,” says Wightman in a conversation with CHUO.

He says the outcomes made in the capital will have a ripple effect on other communities and their institutions. “It’s up to us as users of the healthcare system, as workers, as patients, as supporters, to basically stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate our system being sold for the sake of corporate profits.”

Listen to David Julian Wightman’s conversation with CHUO:

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