Representatives from more than 50 organizations gathered at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday afternoon to protest provincial cuts to healthcare services as well as the amalgamation of local health units in Ontario.

The groups said they are protesting “real-dollar cuts” to public hospital funding as well as the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to eliminate public health units and local ambulance services.

One woman with the National Pensioners Federation was holding a fake skeleton, which was in turn was holding a one-dollar beer, in hopes of showing that Ontario’s healthcare is being reduced to the “bare bones.”

“Seniors are our number one concern and they are also backlogged in our hospitals, waiting for proper care, hands on care primarily and long-term care. We don’t want people to die waiting,” the woman said.

She told CP24 that her father was transported to the emergency room due to declining health and spent four days in the hallway.

“He should be in a long-term care facility,” she said. “You decline in health even more because you just don’t have the opportunity to live in an environment that is conducive to your needs, so you kind of rot in bed. That’s not what we expect from our healthcare system.”

Woman, healthcare protest

City Counc. Kristin Wong-Tam said that Ontarians are seeing through Premier Doug Ford’s promise of “a friendlier face” and that cuts to public health will have a real impact on people’s safety.

“They say they want to stop hallway medicine, they say they want to keep Ontarians healthy and what we know is that public health is part of that solution. For every dollar spent in public healthcare, you save four dollars down the road in healthcare services.”

Speaking with CP24 ahead of the rally, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition—one of the 50 organizations participating in the protest—called the premier’s cuts to healthcare “shocking.”

“We are really worried because the Ford government is actually planning to cut funding for public health units in the province, that’s the front line of preventative healthcare,” Natalie Mehra said. “Across the board they are very significant health care cuts. Ontario funds healthcare at the lowest rate in Canada and that actually we need more not less health care.”

Mehra said that the groups are specifically protesting the province’s plans to close up to 25 of the 35 local public health units in Ontario and eliminate up to 49 of the 59 local ambulance services. She also said that the Ford government has made cuts to public hospital finding and long-term care homes, resulting in fewer beds and less services.

“Doug Ford ran an election campaign and said he was going to end hallway medicine, improve mental healthcare, expand access to long term care,” she said. “What is actually happening is real-dollar cuts to hospitals. That’s not going to end hallway medicine. That’s going to make it worse.”

healthcare protest

The protest comes one week after Ontario’s financial watchdog warned the provincial government that hallway healthcare “will get worse over the next two years.” A report written by the Financial Accountability Officer (FAO) Peter Weltman found that between 2011 and 2018, the number of long-term care beds increased by just 0.8 per cent while the number of elderly patients increased by about 20 per cent.

The province has promised to create 30,000 new long-term beds over the next 10 years, including 15,000 beds over the next five years, but Mehra said those numbers are not enough for the increasing demand.

“We are nowhere near enough to meet the current backlog let alone the doubling of the senior population,” she said. “It will take years to get (the beds) online.”