Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris on health care privatization debate

Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris on health care privatization debate

At a Wednesday charity golf tournament and gala raising money for the North Bay Regional Health Centre Foundation, former Ontario Premier Mike Harris addressed the staffing crisis in hospitals and fears of privatizing health care.

The tournament comes as emergency departments across the province have closed for hours or days this summer due to a severe shortage of nurses. It has affected smaller rural hospitals more than larger urban ones.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones previously said the government is looking at all options to improve the health system. Her statement sparked fears of further privatization. She later said what is not under consideration is asking people to pay out of pocket for services currently covered by OHIP.

The former premier agrees.

“Look, I’m in favour of anything that’s going to improve service and improve access,” Harris told CTV News Northern Ontario.

“I don’t care if it’s for-profit, not-for-profit or if it breaks even, as long as it’s universally covered through OHIP.”

Harris re-called the Ministry of Health using for-profit pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’m not sure a client or a patient cares whether it’s for profit or a not-for-profit or even if they know,” Harris said.

Parts of health care are already delivered by private companies, outside of the hospital setting, including many long-term care homes and nursing agencies. Hospitals have been using nursing agencies more and more during the staffing crisis, health care officials said.

Current Ontario Premier Doug Ford has stated that he’s a strong believer in public health care, but that his government is going to “get creative” when looking at how it can be delivered as the province deals with a staffing crisis in hospitals.

Ford said “everything is on the table” when asked if Ontario is considering further privatization of the health care system.

Adding, his government is talking to health-care experts across the sector in an effort to figure out how to solve the staffing problem.

But Ford and Jones have not specified what options they are looking at.

NDP health critic France Gelinas has been critical of the idea of further privatization.

“They’ll bleed staff away from our public hospitals and urgent care centres, making the health-care crisis much worse,” she said in a written statement.

“If private surgery clinics accept your OHIP card for your procedure, they bill you for your room, the painkillers you take, your meals, the physical therapy you need and more.”

Cathryn Hoy, the president of Ontario Nurses’ Association, a union that represents more than 60,000 nurses and health-care workers, said some agencies are now charging hospitals more than $200 per hour, nearly four times what they charged before the pandemic.

Harris also stated he feels the government’s Bill 124, which since 2019 has capped public sector wage increases at one per cent, does not need to scrapped.

“I heard the premier say ‘we’re prepared to negotiate’ beyond the one per cent for nurses and hospital workers and they’ve already made an offer in excess of that to teachers,” Harris said.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said mental health support, mentorship and good leadership in conjunction with adequate compensation will in aid in bringing nurses on board, as nurses contend with nearly three years of pandemic exhaustion combined with the rising cost of living.

The Ontario Medical Association said 22 million patient services were delayed over the course of the pandemic, 10 million of which were surgeries and cancer screening procedures.

Adding, that backlog is contributing to the strain being felt in emergency departments, which could be eased by separate health centres performing the outpatient procedures. 

The Annual Osprey Links Charity Golf Gala is in its 24th year and has raised over $470,000 for medical needs at the hospital and another half a million for other community projects.

This year, organizers are hoping to raise $50,000 for the North Bay Regional Health Centre’s MRI upgrade project.

“The North Bay Regional Health Centre works with our community to find our community’s highest health care priorities,” Tammy Morrison, president of the hospital foundation, told CTV.