By Stephen Petrick
Signs saying “Don’t Privatize our Public Health Care” will likely pop up on some Haliburton County lawns, ahead of the June 2 Ontario election.
The signs are the work of the Ontario Health Coalition and part of a campaign to advocate for higher care standards, particularly in long-term care homes, which are sometimes privately run and can even be owned by publicly-traded companies.
They were unveiled during a virtual “summit” the coalition held for Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton and Peterborough residents on March 31. Guest speakers argued the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the ineffectiveness of private long-term care homes and the province’s overall inability to care for its most elderly residents.
Lead speaker Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, opened the meeting by sharing the story of “Margaret” a resident who died lonely and in pain in an understaffed long-term care home, where she wasn’t receiving the care that her family – and taxpayers – paid for.
“Margaret didn’t die of COVID-19, she died of neglect,” Mehra said. “She joins 4,500 people who have died in Ontario long-term care homes of COVID alone … That doesn’t count the thousands of others who died of neglect, died of dehydration, starvation, loneliness and depression.”
She continues, “It’s like 20 airlines just fell out of the sky and everyone in them died. You would think there would be fundamental change at that point. You would think the government would turn every stone to increase staffing in long-term care homes. But that has not happened. If anything, the staffing has decreased.”
Although the coalition says it’s not affiliated with one particular party, it is vocal about being anti-Conservative. The meeting was advertised as a call to stop “(Premier) Doug Ford’s Privatization Plan.”
Long-term care was a thorny issue during Ford’s term as premier. After the Canadian Armed Forces were called in to help five Ontario long-term care homes struggling to care for residents in the first wave of the pandemic, the military issued a damning report in May 2020, which said homes were understaffed and short on supplies, and led to serious neglect.
The report led to calls for more government oversight and higher standards in long-term care homes. It also led to more grassroots campaigns to advocate for publicly run homes, which advocates say would be more driven by meeting care standards than profit. The Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition, a partner in the summit, was also born out of those concerns. The Coalition has recently been re-named as the Haliburton Highlands LTC Coalition.
Zac Miller, another organizer of the summit, said that 100 signs are about to go out to the community. Members of the meeting also spoke about the need to keep speaking about the issue and ensure more media attention is given to long-term care ahead of the election.
The meeting participants also debated about how to make headway in a very pro-Conservative riding.
One participant asked how local politicians, MP Jamie Schmale and MPP Laurie Scott, might respond to concerns being raised. Bonnie Roe, the lead member of the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition, says both Schmale and Scott have been good about meeting with the advocates and hearing their concerns, but it’s hard to sense how much good the meetings have done.
When speaking about Scott, Roe said “the difficulty is she touts the Conservative line. You feel it’s futile at times, but you feel you have to keep pushing the envelope.”
For more information on the Haliburton Highlands LTC Coalition email Roe at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 705-457-6579.