Something is definitely off this holiday season. Instead of being invited to the usual round of parties, we’re getting invitations to demonstrations and press conferences. Instead of decking the halls we’re decorating placards.
How oblivious Health Minister Deb Matthews is to this growing unrest is hard to tell, although the recent revelation that she never read the ORNGE audit suggests a shocking disengagement that likely extends well beyond that scandal.
Today in Arnprior staff at the local hospital will be marching to protest ongoing shrinking services. A few more physiotherapy hours to be lost in January, some x-ray… this is the hospital that decided to totally do away with personal care workers (PSWs) as it sheds staff to balance its frozen budget. This slow striptease of staff has a way to go if the government thinks it can continue on this road to at least 2018.
Today is also the day that VON PSWs in Grey-Bruce Counties go back to the bargaining table in a last attempt to avoid job action. One of the workers pointed out that a staffing agency is advertising on Kijiji for temporary PSWs. Is the VON or Red Cross Care Partners – also in a strike countdown – contemplating hiring strike breakers, or are the more affluent residents of this community seeking some interim help should all hell break loose? The classified ad says the employment agency is willing to negotiate wages, something that so far their real employers don’t seem willing to do.
We went through a similar countdown last week with Frontenac Community Mental Health and Addictions Services in Kingston. They are supposed to represent this brave new world of improved community-based services that Matthews has been selling, but their agency’s base budget has been cut. In the end the workers got enough for their bargaining team to recommend a deal – it has yet to be ratified. This is one of the agencies that’s supposed to pick up the slack from 60 full-time equivalent jobs departing the local psychiatric hospital. That’s clearly not happening.
Next week we are travelling to London not for eggnog, but to talk to more mental health workers who have seen their clients similarly betrayed by this phoney health transformation.
Health Minister Deb Matthews is often regarded by the media as one of the front runners to replace Dalton McGuinty as Ontario Premier – a surprise given the intense scrutiny the Minister has been under for her role in the ORNGE air ambulance scandal.
Earlier this year we ran a series of stories about the April closure of the Canadian Blood Services plasma donation centre in Thunder Bay. At the time, Matthews showed little interest in defending the centre or the needed jobs in Northern Ontario – this despite the fact that Bill Mauro, a northern MPP in her caucus, was stating publicly that something didn’t smell right about the closure.
In the legislature she accepted CBS’ explanation that the plasma from Thunder Bay was not needed even though the organization’s annual report showed significant increases in imports of American-sourced plasma.
It is interesting to compare Matthews’ lack of interest over the fate of the Thunder Bay facility with that of the New Brunswick government over the closure of a CBS processing and distribution centre in Saint John.
In late 2009 the New Brunswick Liberal government learned that CBS planned to close the Saint John facility by 2012. Both the Liberals and Conservatives opposed the centralization of the centre’s activities to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
They were so furious the New Brunswick government even commissioned a KPMG report to look at the option of taking the province out of CBS altogether.
Ontario is the only region in Canada to receive a worse rating than the federal government on how it deals with health care according to the Canadian Medical Association’s National Report Card for 2012.
The report card represents a poll of Canadians conducted in July by Ipsos Read Public Affairs.
Given most Canadians likely couldn’t name the Federal Health Minister, Ontario’s inferior ranking is a curious result.
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has been largely invisible to the public. When questions started getting asked about the federal response to the Sandoz drug shortage, for example, Aglukkaq was largely missing in action.
Despite federal sponsorship of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Aglukkaq was a bit player at the launch of the Commission’s strategy earlier this year, her speech uninspired, her commitments no more than a nod to fund ongoing research.
Yesterday’s special report by the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario tells us much about the web of for-profit companies established by Ornge and the failure of oversight by the Minister of Health and Long Term Care.
What’s not in the report is likely of even more interest and raises questions about the relationship with other for-profit providers in the health system.
The McGuinty government subscribes heavily to the concept of steering not rowing, but clearly with Ornge there was no steering and the rowing left much to be desired.
The auditor notes: “having an arm’s-length corporation deliver air ambulance services was … consistent with the Ministry’s long-term objective of moving away from direct service delivery, with health care services being provided by external entities accountable to the Ministry.”
Things got a bit sticky for Health Minister Deb Matthews on two fronts this week. Her reaction? “I’m outraged,” she said.
The first was the news that former London hospital CEO Cliff Nordal received a $1.17 million bonus on top of his salary for remaining at his post for four years overseeing both St. Joseph’s Health Care and London Health Sciences. Nordal has since retired and the two hospitals are now run separately.
Nordal was not the only one to receive a large eyebrow raising cheque. Over the past five years, according to the QMI agency, the two hospitals handed out $2.9 million in severance packages to another 11 executives.