Premier Dalton McGuinty: Step over the Health Minister and fix the home care mess

Ouch! Health Minister Deb Matthews won't like this.

A leading Toronto Star columnist, Bob Hepburn, urges Premier McGuinty today to step in and order Health Minister Deb Matthews to fix the mess in home care.

...the McGuinty government is pressuring hospitals to reduce costs. To do that, hospital administrators are slashing the number of beds and pushing patients out the door faster than ever, turning them over to community health authorities. However, cash-strapped Community Care Access Centres, which arrange for support from local health-care professionals, have simultaneously cut funds for all but the most severe cases.

These cuts - more than 50 per cent in some areas - have been made suddenly and without consultation.  The dramatic reductions started to show up last fall and have continued to this day. Hardly a day goes by without more layoffs and more reduced workloads for health-care professionals. The result is that patients who need critical services provided by occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, dietitians and other professionals are forced to go on wait lists that can last for years or receive no help at all.

Incredibly, though, there's no sense of urgency from Matthews, no feeling that she even realizes a problem exists. Here's what she said in a speech in April to the Canadian Club in Toronto: "Whoever needs care, will get care. Period. Full stop." And this is what she said earlier this year: "When we see hospitals close beds, that's actually in and of itself not a bad news story because so much more is being provided in the community."


Hepburn calls on Premier Dalton McGuinty to step in and order Health Minister Deb Matthews to [1] conduct a full probe into the depth and impact of the community care cutbacks, [2] demand CCAC officials explain fully why they are slashing vital services without telling or consulting the public, and [3] while he's at it, McGuinty should meet personally with health-care groups ignored to date by Matthews.

It's great to see Hepburn (and the Star) intervene.  But some of the advice doesn't quite add up to me.

Demanding CCAC officials explain why they are slashing services without consulting the public makes it sound like it's mainly the fault of the CCACs. But the freeze imposed by the government on CCAC funding surely explains the cuts in the services.   And you can't point the finger at the CCACs for that problem.

And as for public consultations, the CCACs are creatures of the government, so it's a bit optimistic to think they are going to hold public consultations on the home care funding crisis.

The CCACs did try something similar in 2001, when they were more independent of government.  However, the CCACs were quickly taken over by the government and the public airing of funding problems was shut down. The result?  Home care services shrank by 30% before the public cottoned on. 

The Liberals appear to be hoping for something similar this time around too. Hepburn's columns will help shatter that hope!


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