Local health integration networks (LHINs) are new regional health authorities that will change the health care landscape in Ontario. The networks appear to be laying the groundwork for further privatization of the health care system. The Ontario Liberals want to pass legislation that will establish LHINs in the health care system.
Alarmingly, the changes being proposed by the Ontario Liberals are similar to changes made by the B.C. Liberals in 2002 under Bill 29. They used the bill to slash wages, impose contracts, fire 8,500 workers and push privatization in the health care sector. There was tremendous downward pressure on workers’ wages (women’s wages in particular) and massive contracting out of services provided by public service staff (mainly women and people of colour) in B.C. after Bill 29 was passed.
The official Ontario government line is that LHINs will allow for the pooling of resources, which will attract doctors and other health care professionals. The logic is warped on at least two fronts. Resources tend to go to the strongest and largest providers in any given area and patients will have to travel farther to access those resources. Also, the shortage of doctors means various LHINs will be competing against each other for medical staff. Integration really means consolidation of services within a geographic area.
More importantly, the Liberals intend to introduce competitive bidding to hospitals, long-term care and community health-related social services under the LHINs plan. The same process was used in Ontario to destroy community-based, non-profit home care. LHINs will receive health service funding for their regions. They will then buy health services – like surgeries, dietary services, cleaning services – from providers like hospitals, private clinics or companies who win the competitive bid. In the home care sector, the bidding process increased privatization, disrupted continuity of care and reduced access to care.
This fundamental shift in policy is taking place without any public debate. By setting up the LHINs before the legislation is passed, the provincial government is presenting the process as a done deal. However, unions and advocacy groups are calling on the Liberals to hold public hearings into the changes. CUPE Ontario has launched a province-wide campaign to mobilize members to fight LHINs. CUPE is calling on the McGuinty Liberals to:
- Hold province-wide public consultations before the legislation is introduced;
- Remove competitive bidding from any plans in the health care sector;
- Commit to delivery of health services locally in communities, not on a regional basis;
- Include doctors in any integration of health services.
See www.cupe.on.ca/www/LHINs/a437b8e2f5ffab for more information on the latest action by CUPE Ontario.