Overcrowded hospitals. More bed closures. Increased privatization. Longer wait times.

And if the last provincial budget was any indication, things aren’t likely to get better any time soon in Ontario.

“We’re calling it the austerity budget,” said Nathalie Sheppard, campaign organizer for the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC).

“For the next four years, they’re going to be cutting $3 billion from the health-care system in Ontario.”

The OHC claims that Ontario already has the lowest funding in Canada compared to the other provinces at $1,312 per person in 2012.

Since the 1990’s, the province has lost 18,500 hospital beds.

“And the big push in the coming years is cutting services, like physiotherapy, which are going to private clinics,” said Sheppard.

“So people are going to have to pay for it.”

In response, the OHC called for an urgent Day of Action on March 4 in seventeen cities across the province. 

In Toronto, a rally was held Saturday on the lawn outside SickKids hospital.

Hospitals have until April 1 to come up with ways of reducing their deficits. If not, there will be more cuts to already underfunded services.

The Ontario government said the cuts to hospital budgets will be put back into home health-care services.

“But they’re not actually doing that,” said Sheppard.

“The rate they’re putting money into home care is not keeping up with the cuts that they’re making in the hospitals. So that people that are going home aren’t able to access the services in time and end up back in the emergency room.”

Higher re-admission rates lead to more overcrowding in hospitals.

Last week, Sheppard needed an emergency ultrasound. But the hospital she went to couldn’t perform the procedure because their diagnostic, imaging and emergency wasn’t open at the time.

So she had to return the next morning.

“If someone is in a worse emergency than myself, how are they supposed to access those services?” asked Sheppard.

A lot of hospitals now schedule MRI’s, CT scans and ultrasounds only within certain hours.

In the north and other rural areas, things are even worse. Entire hospitals are slated for closure.

“And it’s not like the government is announcing them.”

Which in the end means longer wait times in Ontario, a province already known for some of the worst wait times in the country.

Wait times for elective surgeries, such as joint replacement, can take up to a year. Staff reductions have increased nurse to patient ratios, which means slower response times when patients hit the call button.

“And the staff are very concerned,” said Sheppard.

“If you don’t have enough time or resources patients aren’t going to get the care they need.”

The OHC said it’s time to put an end to the tax cuts.

“Ontario has experienced some of the deepest tax cuts in the country,” said Sheppard. “And because of this we’re losing our services.”

Including lack of investment in long term care homes.

Sheppard said seniors who are on waiting lists for long term care end up in shelters instead. Or in rooming houses. Or housing that isn’t appropriate for someone in their medical condition.

Younger Ontarians are also finding out how bad things are after they’re beset with illness or injury.

When David Langille’s brother tore ligaments in his knee, he was forced to visit an emergency room in a London hospital. 

The emergency room had a sign on the wall that read, “Expect A Wait Time Of 7 Hours.”

It took him a month to get an MRI. 

“This is unacceptable,” said Langille, a lecturer in the Health Studies program at the University of Toronto. 

“And with the cuts to physiotherapy, he’s going to have to go and pay for it privately because there aren’t the services in the hospitals. And he can’t afford to.”

All because the Liberals pledged not to raise taxes during the 2003 election campaign.

“He promised the Canadian Taxpayers Federation this when he first took office,” said Langille. “And unfortunately that’s the kind of promise he’s kept.”

Fair taxation would solve the problem, bridge the income inequality gap and help fund more public services.

Different health-care delivery models would help too. Community health centres, pharmacare and home care.

“But the biggest determinant of health,” said Langille, “is whether you were born rich or poor.”

Whether the child has adequate housing, child care services and education.

“So it starts at an early age,” said Langille.

Langille came to Saturday’s rally with a group of his students, including Maia Johnstone, a third year student in the Health Studies and Psychology program.

Johnstone held a sign depicting specific examples of cuts to the health-care system in Ontario.

“There hasn’t been much public discussion about these cuts,” said Johnstone. “Not many people even know they’re going on.”

Johnstone worries about what the future holds for Canadians, if the government continues to cut health-care spending.

“We’re here to support our hospital services,” she said.

“But if they’re being cut, fewer people are going to have access.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.