Health care has finally made it to the Ontario election

After talking about everything but health care, the major parties are turning their attention to the issue Ontarians say they most care about.

Premier Dalton McGuinty raised the Harris/Eves record while in Ottawa this week, noting the PCs closed 28 hospitals while the Liberals opened 18 news ones.

This is technically true, but not entirely correct. When hospitals merged, it allowed for satellite locations to remain a part of the hospital even if it no longer offered full hospital services. In some cases, it did involve actually taking the white and blue “H” sign off the side of the building.

Fort Erie and Port Colborne both technically lost their hospitals once the Emergency Rooms were closed by the McGuinty government, but both facilities remain part of the Niagara Health System.

In Shelburne the situation couldn’t be clearer – the last services offered at the local hospital were removed a few years ago and now residents are told to go to Orangeville for service. Shelburne’s local hospital was once part of the Headwaters Health System, which continues to exist. Technically Headwaters is still with us, but not the Shelburne Hospital. You can’t get much more closed than that.

The Ontario Health Coalition has been campaigning to keep small and rural hospitals open amid plans to further rationalize local health services.

More interesting is McGuinty’s reminder that the Mike Harris government attempted to close the cardiac unit at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). At the time the Tories argued that there were too few procedures performed to maintain clinical proficiency and competency for this kind of specialized care. This is an argument that the McGuinty government have themselves used repeatedly to justify the concentration of services in the so-called “centres of excellence.”

The Liberals allege that the current Tory platform has a $14 billion hole in it, implying the $6.1 billion four-year commitment to health care funding increases may be just an illusion.

It is no surprise that the Liberals have decided to attack on health care – an August Nanos poll indicated voters trust McGuinty much more on the health file, whereas Hudak and McGuinty post similar numbers when it comes to taxes and the economy.

The Liberals have also been under attack for recent changes to what has been a motherhood issue – literally. The McGuinty government is cutting the “Healthy Babies Health Children” program operated by public health. Within 48 hours of discharge a new mother is offered a phone call and subsequent visit from a public health nurse. Instead the government is planning on making this program available for high-risk families only.

The NDP campaign so far has focused on jobs, transit, tourism, education, corporate taxes, municipalities, agriculture and green initiatives – but little about health care despite significant commitments in their “Change That Puts People First” platform.

NDP health critic France Gelinas recently told the Globe and Mail that Tim Hudak’s plan to create thousands of long-term care beds does little good if the people occupying them would be better served through home care. The NDP plans to increase the supply of home care by a million hours over four years and to conduct a comprehensive review with the goal of creating a new publicly-owned and accountable home care system.


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