Hundreds of people ranging from health professionals to patients gathered in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday to protest the Ontario government’s approach to health care.
“Once you lose something it’s really hard to get it back, so that’s why we have to fight to save these programs,” said Cathy Crowe, a street nurse in Toronto who spoke at the demonstration.
She said government funding changes to public health directly impact the most vulnerable.
“It means that we can lose nurses that are working with vulnerable people and in rooming houses, in shelters and drop-ins,” she said.
“We’ve already lost flu shot clinics in that area. This past summer we saw a cancellation of the cooling centre programs.”
The Ontario Health Coalition advocacy group organized the protest to call on Premier Doug Ford’s government to stop what it refers to as “real-dollar” cuts to public hospitals, as well as plans to eliminate public health units and local ambulance services.
“(Doug Ford) said he was going to end hallway medicine, but there’s no way to end hallway medicine and cut the actual real-dollar funding for hospitals,” executive director of the group Natalie Mehra told Global News.
Toronto city councillor Kristen Wong-Tam said the cuts to Toronto’s public health programs — which the city has estimated will amount to $14 million annually by 2021 — will have dire consequences.
“We’re not going to stand by while he makes these cuts,” Wong-Tam said.
“We know that these cuts will be harmful. They will make people sick. And at some point in time — we know this is going to happen — people are going to die.”
Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Ontario health minister Christine Elliott, wrote in an email to Global News that the government intends to deliver “public health in a way that is more resilient, nimble and meets the evolving needs of our community.”
She continued, “We also want to create better and deeper relationships between public heath, primary care and the broader health-care system to support our goal of ending hallway health care through improved health promotion.”
Mehra said her group won’t be satisfied until all cuts are reversed.
“There ought to be a choice, which is no cuts whatsoever,” she said.