Council backs call for public input on LHINs

With Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) legislation expected to pass this week, town council passed a resolution Monday night calling on the province to establish full, cross-province public hearings on the legislation and release its full plans for health care reform.
The resolution was introduced during a presentation by Corinne Webb, president of CUPE Local 4807, Patti Halstead, acting president of CUPE Local 65, and Danny Scheibli, a CUPE national rep for Northwestern Ontario.
They made it clear local health-care workers, and thousands of their counterparts across the province, are extremely concerned about Bill 36—the Local Health Services Integration Act.
“The Ontario government is trying to ‘transform’ health care and certain social services,” said Webb. “[It has] come up with Bill 36, which creates 14 LHINs across the province to plan, integrate, and fund hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the aged, home care, addiction treatment, child treatment, community, and mental health services.
“The legislation is being rushed through like a freight train,” she argued.
“Although the name implies these bodies are ‘local,’ there’s nothing local about them,” Webb charged. “This bill grants little real power to communities and providers to make decisions.
“All control is held by the minister [George Smitherman] and the LHINs,” she said. “The LHIN boards are appointed, not elected, and answerable to the minister of health, not the public.”
The Northwest LHIN (LHIN 14) covers a very large geographic area—from the Manitoba border to Hudson’s Bay and east to Manitouwadge. Webb wondered how can health care services be “integrated” in such a large area?
“Bill 36 introduces competitive bidding to hospitals and long-term care,” she said. “The LHIN receives all the funding for the entire region.
“Health services such as surgeries, medical and non-medical processes, and administrative functions are given a price and wannabe providers, many of them for-profit companies, will bid on the gamut of health services, and the lowest bidder wins the contract.
“For-profit companies, that pay health service workers low wages and no benefits, routinely under-bid not-for-profit providers that compensate workers fairly,” she stressed.
“Not only will this compromise the public nature of the current system, it will result in diminished care, and instability and turmoil for health care workers,” she warned.
Webb noted the key purpose of LHINs is to cut costs by integrating services, which could mean support services—and even clinical ones—could be taken out of hospitals and homes and into for-profit corporations and private clinics.
This integration also likely would mean “enormous changes” in bargaining units, collective agreements, and collective bargaining, she added.
“Health care and social service workers have been through many rounds of restructuring already. And we were always assured the various changes were for the best,” Webb said.
“But too much of this restructuring simply consumed enormous energy and resources, exhausting health care and social service workers. Yet, we face change on an even broader scale now,” she remarked.
Webb noted the hospital is one of the largest employers in the area, and wondered where the employees will go if they lose their jobs? Most don’t want to leave their family and friends in Rainy River District.
“And what of technical professional members like myself, a health information management professional with 20 years or service and seniority—no one else in my community is in need of my qualifications.
“Where will I go if the LHIN decides to move health record services to another employer in another community?” she asked.
“Obviously, this bill has huge implications for all health-care workers in the province, wiping out all provisions for job security in the event of contracting out.
“But more than that, it has huge implications for the public, as well,” stressed Webb.
“Services they may have been able to access in their communities may no longer be available and patients in the north, who already experience the hardship of travelling long distances for medical care, will potentially have to do this on a more regular basis,” she warned.
Webb noted the community also feels strongly about LHINs. Members of CUPE Local 4807 collected 400 signatures on a petition, which has been sent to Health and Long-term Care minister George Smitherman, Premier Dalton McGuinty, Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle, and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton.
“We have asked you [town council] to pass a resolution, which outlines concerns our members and the citizens of this community have with Bill 36 and LHINs,” said Webb.
“We are asking the government to take a considered and consultative approach when restructuring health care; to consult with local communities, health-care workers, and the public about health care reform before passing this legislation.
“Please support us in the fight to save public, not-for-profit health care, accessible to all ‘close to home,’” concluded Webb.
“We appreciate your words and the message you’re trying to get out there,” Mayor Dan Onichuk said at Monday night’s meeting.
The mayor also noted he attended a meeting on LHINs at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association/Ontario Good Roads Association joint conference in Toronto last week.
At this meeting, Dave Murray, chair of the Northeastern Ontario LHIN board, said the various LHINs would be split into smaller “sub-LHIN” committees.
Scheibli noted he’s heard “rumblings” about that, but no official plans have ever been released—in fact, none of the health and social service workers’ questions have been answered as to what the impact of LHINs will be.
Coun. Tannis Drysdale said this lack of information was “par for the course,” adding she still finds it unusual people were appointed to LHIN boards prior to Bill 36 even being passed.
Coun. John Albanese noted he was concerned about the province’s lack of public meetings regarding LHINs, adding he’s even attended a meeting where he was told municipal leaders should be responsible for educating the public on LHINs—a difficult feat considering the councillors’ themselves don’t know much about how they’ll work.
Council agreed to fax a copy of its resolution to Smitherman first thing Tuesday morning.