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Protest in Sudbury decries health care cuts

Mary Katherine Keown

By Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star

Tracy Labelle-Robichaud really does not want to leave Northern Ontario, but if health care spending continues along its current trajectory, she may not have a choice.

A registered practical nurse at Health Sciences North, she received a layoff notice about two months ago.

"I'd like to stay in the North, but heaven forbid if something happens to me or my family, can we stay here if the medical system isn't up to par? It'll be difficult," she said. "I would relocate. I don't want to leave -- I want to stay in the North. They should be increasing the number of registered nurses who stay in the North. We teach them and then they leave."

The part-time RPN attended a rally on Friday along with her 10-month old daughter, Ophelia. She said she is one three part-time RPNs, as well as three full-time RPNs, being laid off from her floor, the medical-oncology unit.

Labelle-Robichaud has worked at HSN for nearly four years and has bumping rights, but it is of little consolation.

"Working in health care, I see that we're already working at the bare bottom and cutting nurses will just increase burn-out and sick time, which will increase the budget anyway," she said.

Labelle-Robichaud is still on maternity leave, but says from what she has heard, the mood on her floor "is pretty sour."

The Ontario Health Coalition organized Friday's gathering at Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault's constituency office to protest what they charge are disproportionate cuts to hospitals in Northern Ontario. An estimated 200 people converged in the parking lot at 555 Barrydowne Road to hear from a roster of speakers and affected health care workers.

Many scribbled messages on red balloons, which they planned to leave for the Grit MPP. There was much chanting and cheering, as well as a free micro-concert, courtesy of NDP stalwart Paul Loewenberg. Thibeault was absent for much of the rally, as he was at Dynamic Earth for a previously scheduled tourism funding announcement.

Representatives from Coalition chapters in Temiskaming, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury spoke about deep cuts to frontline health care workers in their respective communities. In Timmins, they reported 26 beds and 40 jobs will be lost. In the Soo, 56 beds will be closed, including 20 in acute care. HSN is losing four surgical beds, while in Temiskaming the hospital will slash 50% of its surgical time and 10% of its workforce.

"The cuts must stop; they've gone too far. Health care privatization is not supported by Ontarians -- it's time for it to stop," Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said during her address.

Paula Los, a retired nurse, also attended Friday's rally. She wanted to learn more about the impacts of spending cuts and a two-tiered health care system.

"Some people are paying up to $1,000 for different things," she contended. "If you don't have the money, what are you going to do? Do you go without treatment? ... It's a problem as you get older."

She has been retired for several years, but said she has heard from friends hospitals are suffering from maintenance issues stemming from spending cuts.

"People that work there don't have time to clean properly. You hear a lot about infections," she added. "Some of the things you hear, you don't know if they're true or not, but (coming out to the rally) is a way to gather information."

Kent MacNeill, local unit president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, stood in solidarity with health care workers on Friday.

"It affects everybody, from the students who are very young to my members and their parents. We're in the sandwich generation -- taking care of the young ones, as well as the elders," he said. "The cuts are just astronomical -- not just in the public sector as a whole, but health care is affecting everybody across the board. It's very disrespectful to life and human health that the way they're going to find cuts to the deficit is to cut frontline workers."

Rather than cutting nursing staff, MacNeill suggested that trimming a few managerial positions would result in fewer impacts to patient care.

"With middle and higher management -- they can find great savings there by reducing that," he argued. "We're part of the labour movement and respecting the health care system as Tommy Douglas envisioned it."

MacNeill posited reducing frontline staff will actually be counter-productive in the long-term.

"There's going to be more back-log, longer waiting times, more difficulty finding home care and it's going to lead to increased health issues -- that's not what taxpayers are looking for," he contended. "Even from a preventative standpoint -- if you could have had a hip replacement in two months, instead of eight or 10, you're going to have more deterioration, so it's going to cost the system more to take care of you."

MacNeill added that federal and provincial governments need to look within to balance their budgets.

"It's time (they) stop picking on the public sector as the problem. We're not. We're professionals. We work hard," he said. "When they make financial errors or miscalculations, or simply spend in a ridiculous manner, there's no accountability, other than at the ballot box. We need to come up with some sort of accountability for the people who are ridiculously spending our money. If they got dinged 10% every time they had a deficit in their budget, maybe they'd be a little smarter."

Thibeault arrived a little after 1 p.m., just as the crowd dispersed. He spoke briefly with Mehra and Anne-Marie MacInnis, president of Mine Mill Local 598/Unifor. He promised to relay their concerns to the management team at HSN and his caucus.

"Northern Ontario doesn't always seem to get its fair shake, so my job is to make sure that I'm the voice for all of these people and the people in the North, including Sudbury, to talk about the concerns they have," he told media after meeting with organizers.

Twitter: @marykkeown

705-674-5271 ext. 505235

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