Advocates of public health insurance in Eastern Ontario are concerned that the Ontario government is planning to introduce private hospitals and other treatment facilities to the province. 

“There is overwhelming and conclusive evidence that the Ontario government is planning to privatize wide swaths of the public health system,” says Elaine MacDonald, Co-Chair of the Cornwall branch of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC). 

During a press conference in late February, the branch showed a brief video clip where Minister of Health Christine Elliott appeared to say, “Let independent health facilities and private hospitals operate.” 

MacDonald calls it “Privatization by stealth – it’s under the radar.” 

She alleges the government’s privatization plans were covered up by its COVID-19 response. 

The OHC has launched a campaign across the province to raise awareness of what it believes is an attempt to have public health services provided by the private sector using public funding. The OHC is hoping enough awareness will be raised leading up to the June 2 provincial election. 

Rainer Pethke, of Crysler, is one of the people concerned about introducing private hospitals and other services to the Ontario health care system. 

“Privatization is two-tier health care,” Pethke says. 

Pethke is concerned the introduction of private services will lead to a degradation of existing public services. His concerns are particularly personal, as he has a granddaughter who is a patient at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, a son in long-term care, and his 95-year-old mother lives with him at his home. 

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions President Michael Hurley says there are more risks associated with private hospitals and that three-quarters of the COVID-19 deaths in Ontario were in for-profit long-term care facilities. He added those facilities are also understaffed. 

“For profit had the lowest level of staffing in Ontario long-term care going into the pandemic,” Hurley asserts. 

The union’s president is also concerned that more private medical services would lead to assembly-line-style care at private facilities and leave the more serious cases to an underfunded public system. 

Randy Robinson – the Ontario Director for the left-leaning think tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – said current provincial policies in Ontario are designed to advance privatization, when at less than $2,000 per person per year, Ontario already spends the least amount per capita on public services than any other province. 

“We are simply not making the effort to fund public services,” Robinson said. 

There are already some private hospitals in Ontario which provide services not normally insured by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), or provide specific treatments and procedures and were allowed to remain open after legislative changes took effect in 1973. Many facilities providing blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasound services across Ontario are also operated by private companies, however patient costs are covered by OHIP.