EMC Smiths Falls - Unions launch campaign to stop hospital cuts

EMC News - The unions fighting the cutbacks at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital have started a postcard campaign aimed at MPP Randy Hillier.

"We want everyone we know to sign them," said John Jackson, president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) local 2119, which represents hospital workers at both sites, during a press conference at the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Smiths Falls on Thursday, Nov. 22. "We are looking at doing outreach in the community."

The union has about 3,000 postcards done up so far, which they planned to hand deliver to residents - along with candy canes - at the Smiths Falls Santa Claus Parade this past Sunday, Nov. 25 and at the Perth and District Children's Santa Claus Parade on Saturday, Dec. 1.

"We're sensitive to the fact that it is a Santa Claus parade," said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. "We don't want to be flashy and take away from the parade," but on a limited budget, they need to get out to as many people as they can.

While the Progressive Conservatives are not seen to be as friendly towards the labour movement as, say, the New Democratic Party, the two union bosses insisted that while their postcard campaign may literally be addressed to Hillier, they were not targeting him, and indeed hoped he could bring his talents to bear on the situation.

"We know he is capable of being very energetic and dynamic," said Hurley. "We want him shaking the tree of the provincial government...All we're looking for from Mr. Hillier is that he will be his energetic self."

Hillier is not usually held up for praise in union circles, but Hillier welcomed the compliment during a telephone interview on Monday, Nov. 26.

"Flattery is always nice," he said with a laugh. "(But) I am a little bit disappointed and concerned with the language about the hospital," from the unions. "There is no closure. That is false. The Perth hospital is not under any threat of closure."

Back at the Legion, the union bosses stated that they felt that all three major Ontario parties were letting the health care system down.

"They all want to contain the hospital spending," said Hurley. "They all favour the consolidation of health care into major urban centres.

The local consequences of their policies, and I mean all three parties, is to consolidate."

The unions will also be hosting two public meetings on the issue:

- Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 at the Perth Civitan Club, at 7 p.m.

- Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 at the Smiths Falls Royal Canadian Legion, at 7 p.m.

The meetings will be co-sponsored by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), with the OHC's executive director, Natalie Mehra, slated to speak.

"They (OHC) have a great record of achieving additional funding for hospitals," said Hurley. "At the meeting itself, we will explain the cuts as we understand them ourselves... (And) we will ask the community what would you be prepared to do?"

It was his hope that a citizens' committee would be formed to fight the cutbacks at the local level.

"We will leave those meetings with enthusiasm and energy," promised Hurley.

Hurley cited the recently completed deal that the province worked out with the doctor's association as proof that there is "far more discretion (in the health budget) than they would let on."

"If they can find $200 million for doctors, they can find $2 or $3 million for the hospital," added Hurley, who also charged that 44 per cent of beds eliminated over the last 20 years in Ontario "were in communities like this one."

Hillier had figures of his own that he was quick to point to, like the development of Napanee's hospital with additional provincial money, and the redevelopment of the Smiths Falls hospital, as well as the hospitals being ranked in the top seven highest performing hospitals in the province, as well as being in the top 11 in terms of patient satisfaction.

Hillier also took the union leadership to task for what he saw as causing undue anxiety in the community.

"A number of seniors and elderly have called me," about the threats of a site closedown, he said.

"It has caused a lot of anxiety and stress because the rumours are false.

"We have been vigorous in getting more services into both hospitals," he said, pointing to the new dialysis unit at the Smiths Falls site.

"The only ones talking about closing hospitals are the union leadership," Hillier said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, Tay Valley Township council voted to back a motion penned by Lanark County warden John Gemmell, urging the provincial Liberals to step in to put money towards eliminating the hospital's debt.

The issue went before Smiths Falls town council's committee-of-the-whole on Monday, Nov. 26.

"To me, it should be something that we support," said Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples before council voted to carry the motion along to its full council meeting on Monday, Dec. 3.

It was also due to be debated at Lanark County council on Wednesday, Nov. 28.

With the publicly-declared support of Lanark Highlands Township Mayor Peter McLaren, Beckwith Township Deputy Reeve Sharon Mousseau, and Drummond/North Elmsley township Reeve Aubrey Churchill, Jackson said he is pleased with the municipal political support he has seen for the hospital.

"We were glad they supported how the citizens feel and we are glad they are going to bat to make sure they're heard," said Jackson.

"It is very exciting that they are organized like that," agreed Hurley.

Hillier also appeared to support the motion, but lamented that Queen's Park was not open because of Premier Dalton McGuinty's decision to prorogue the legislature last month.

"Queen's Park ought to be open for this discussion," said Hillier.

While the hospital is in a zero per cent increase position until at least 2017, Hurley stated that this actually relates to a cut in services, when the cost of business and inflation is factored in. The provincial auditor general has found that hospitals face an inflation rate of 5.8 per cent when costs like doctors' salaries, drugs and equipment is factored in.

Hillier also took these assertions to task.

"There are no budget cutbacks at the hospital," said Hillier, preferring to call the changes a "reallocation of funds."

"They are carrying that deficit," said Hillier. "That is something that we need to eliminate. The board and new interim CEO recognize that. They knew that they need to eliminate those carrying costs."

The hospital reported that it would be closing six beds at each of the Smiths Falls and Perth sites, something the union is fighting, but which Hillier is more open to.

"A number of beds in both hospitals... because of the problems in the long term care side, we did not have the appropriate levels of home care or long term care (for those patients)," said Hillier. So, many patients were being kept in hospital "for very extended periods of time. Hospitals are not the best place for long-term care."

Hillier has visited hospitals where he has seen such patients languishing.

"It broke my heart to see those people," said Hillier.