By Stew Slater
Two dozen supporters strolled up and down Queen Street West on the afternoon of Monday, March 4 as part of an Ontario-wide effort to lobby for changes in the healthcare provisions of the proposed provincial budget.
Gayle Beattie, spokesperson for the St. Marys-and-area chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), stressed the rally in front of St. Marys Memorial Hospital was not directly targetting the Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) — the organization which operates the St. Marys site and three other hospitals in the region. She noted HPHA leadership has been open to discourse with the local group, adding that she believes the Alliance is doing what it can to plan for the future healthcare needs of the community, given what the OHC has labelled a five-year “Austerity Budget” plan of the provincial government.
“Yes, we need cuts in the budget,” Beattie told the Journal Argus at Monday’s rally. “But there are always choices to where cuts should be made. And slashing beds, I don’t think, is the way to go.”
Keeping abreast of developments in other parts of the province, Beattie says she repeatedly comes across stories of people being forced to travel further and further afield for treatments or tests, or of being sent home from hospitals after short recoveries, without enough at-home supports.
She says she’s supportive of a move towards more service provided in the communities — something Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews pledges the government will provide as it moves away from ever-increasing funding for hospitals in its provincial budget. “If they’re able to ... take money from their ‘Austerity Budget’ and it’s a sustainable system, that’s okay.”
But it’s too soon to know if that’s the case. And, judging from some of the stories she hears from around the province, community-based service is also vulnerable to budget cutbacks.
“It’s just amazing how many beds and services are being cut,” Beattie said.
The owner of Pounder Tim-Br Mart in Stratford, the local Health Coalition spokesperson said every effort should be made to maintain funding for core healthcare services. And if that means taking funding away from upper management levels of the healthcare system, perhaps that should be a focus.
“(Cutting core services) would be like us asking our staff to take pay cuts, or us laying off staff, and keeping our salaries the way they are. And we just wouldn’t do that.”