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Niagara Falls
Friday, September 29, 2023
Op-ed: Decreased access to health care is harming our community
New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates says the provincial government has corrupted the process around freeing up land in the Greenbelt for development. Evan Loree/FILE

MPP Wayne Gates
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Across the province of Ontario, residents and families are losing access to the frontline health care services they need. In communities like Minden, emergency rooms are being closed. In the Niagara region, we have learned recently that urgent care centres in both Fort Erie and Port Colborne will be reducing their services. 

And here in our community in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we are facing a situation where more and more families cannot get access to a family doctor. 

We know across Niagara we need 91 more doctors to meet the needs of our population — and we need at least three more right here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Around 6,000 people in our town do not currently have a primary care physician, which means our existing doctors are seeing approximately over a thousand patients each.  

We know we have the highest concentration of seniors in the Niagara region right here in the town. In fact, Niagara-on-the-Lake has one of the highest concentration of seniors across the country.

Because of this, access to primary care is especially important. Our community has been working hard, together, to ensure the town has access to nurse practitioner services for residents, which is an issue I have raised directly with the minister of health. 

Our hospital system is also facing an extraordinary staffing crisis, with many nurses, personal support workers (PSWs) and other frontline health care staff forced to leave the job they love due to three years of pandemic, burnout, increased violence in hospitals and the financial impacts of Bill 124. 

I firmly believe this provincial government, under the premier, has worsened the staffing crisis in health care that has led to reduced access to services for communities like ours. 

We need a strategy — at both a local and provincial level — to ensure we address staffing shortages and make sure every resident in Niagara-on-the-Lake and across the province of Ontario has the health care they deserve, when they need it. 

That starts with building up our health care infrastructure here in the town. We need to ensure that as a community we have a coherent recruitment and retention strategy for primary care doctors that can serve every single resident in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I will also continue to work with all levels of government, including town representatives, the ministry of health and the provincial government to ensure we get nurse practitioner services for residents right here in our community.  

I am also going to continue to work to get the new Niagara South Hospital built as soon as possible. Ever since I was first elected in 2014, I have been working to get this hospital built and I will continue that work to make sure that we have shovels in the ground this summer. 

We then need to be bold with how we address the staffing crisis province wide. We should start by dropping the provincial government’s appeal on Bill 124. This is a terrible law that has absolutely contributed to our staffing shortages — and it’s not right that the provincial government is using millions of taxpayer dollars to fight a decision in court that ruled the law unconstitutional. 

We also know, according to a report from the financial accountability office, the province is severely underfunding our public hospital system by approximately $21 billion by 2027-28. We shouldn’t be sitting on extra dollars we could be using to support our nurses, doctors and hospitals when our health care system is under this much pressure. 

Finally, we need to be wary of the premier’s push for privatization of health care services. While the premier promises it will make health care delivery more efficient, we know that data out of Quebec shows that equivalent surgeries in a private setting end up being much more expensive than in public.

The CBC has reported average cataract surgeries cost $1,137 in a private clinic versus $782 in a public setting, and short colonoscopies were $739 private as compared to $290 public. 

And while the premier promises that no one will pay out of pocket, we know there is potential for some patients, particularly seniors, to be upsold or be charged hidden fees.

We can’t let that become a reality in the province of Ontario. 

Working together with residents here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we can build up access to health care for our community, for our province and for every single person and family to have access to the health care services they need.

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