RENFREW, Ont. – Yesterday evening, concerned citizens of the Renfrew area, members of the Ontario Coalition of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and other health care professionals, came together at the Legion to discuss the regional laboratories restructuring project, as well as other changes affecting health services in Ontario and at their local hospital.
Lee-Ann Somerville, president of CUPE local 1548, which represents employees at the Renfrew hospital, described how the recent restructuring of health care has affected her own hospital. “Our lab has already lost some services, like microbiology and haematology. And this makes it more difficult to get the results quickly for our patients,” said Ms. Somerville.
Doug Allan, a researcher with CUPE, explained how Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) have been put in place to manage cuts in funding for hospitals by, among other things, reducing the range of services provided by each hospital. But some communities rally around their local hospital and fight back. He gave the example of Ajax-Pickering, where the community mobilized to keep birth services and more recently their mental health beds. “What we want is a broad range of services in each hospital, to best serve the community,” Mr. Allan added.
Michael Hurley, president of OCHU reminded everyone that the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA), created in 1996, initially promised not to cut jobs and to maintain laboratory technicians and support staff in the employment of their respective hospitals. But they are now moving towards a single employer model and the centralization of testing in one or two hospitals for the whole Champlain LHIN area, which goes from Cornwall to Pembroke. This would mean that most hospitals in the region would only collect samples and send them to Ottawa or to private labs, at a higher cost. This would lead to the loss of high skill jobs in those areas and more delays in obtaining test results for patients. He concluded that “This project is wrong from a public health perspective and is not even supposed to generate significant savings.”
Mr. Hurley also gave the example of the supply chain regional corporation Plexus, in Toronto, as a model for saving money by coordinating some activities at the regional level, with no private partner and no loss of jobs. He explained the apparently irrational restructuring project as resulting from governmental pressures and a partnership with the US-based multinational Gamma Dynacare, which happens to have a lab next door to the Renfrew Victoria Hospital.
Participants in the discussion explained that the lack of community reaction so far to the loss of some services can be explained by the fact that those services are quietly being eliminated, and that people find out only when they go to the hospital and need them. For example, a blood test which used to be done for free on site now costs $45 and is being sent away. But the people of Renfrew greatly value their hospital and should rally against the EORLA restructuring project, once they become aware of it.
The Ontario Coalition of Hospital Unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees will continue their campaign aimed at convincing the LHIN and EORLA to abandon that project, in alliance with any individuals and groups who share that goal. The next steps in the campaign will include public meetings in several other towns, the distribution of pamphlets and a sustained lobbying effort.
For further information, please contact:
Benoit Renaud, CUPE communications, 613-818-0077
Michael Hurley, president, OCHU, 416-599-0770 x 21 (w), 416-884-0770 (c)