Hundreds protest privatized physio

Frustrated hospital users spur de-amalgamation talk

Hundreds of area residents gathered on both sides of Queen Street at the Kincardine hospital entrance Thursday to protest the South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) board's decision to privatize the physiotherapy department here, effective Aug. 18.
After that time, overnight hospital patients will still have physio covered by OHIP if they need the service. Others not staying in the hospital (out-patients) will have to pay for services out of pocket or with private insurance. Only those out-patients younger than 20, older the 64, living in a long-term care home or receiving social assistance or home care will still have government coverage.

These changes to out-patient physio were made by the Ontario government in 2005 but are only taking effect here now as hospital physio switches to the private firm PT Health. Until this point, the hospital paid for out-patient physio not covered under OHIP.

"I know the service itself is not being cut, but it's the principle behind it," said one of the community organizers of the peaceful protest, Arla Dahmer.

Using a megaphone, Dahmer addressed placard-holding demonstrators over occasional honks from passing drivers.
Other speakers represented the Kincardine hospital auxiliary and local unions.

Jo-Ellen Abercrombie was one of about 300 people organizers estimated to have attended.
"Somebody has to look at the vision for the future. I've been lucky I've had (insurance benefits) through my life. I just want to see it continue for other people," Abercrombie said.

Another demonstrator, Al Jamieson, said his private insurance pays for physio he needs three times a week after a recent knee replacement. Even with the ability to pay, he questioned whether physio services would be as accessible when Community Rehab Services closes and relocates to the smaller hospital physio department.

Dr. Lisa Roth said the hospital physio area is about half the size of the other clinic.
"There just physically is not the space to do it," she said. SBGHC board members have said privatization will save money and ensure a balanced budget, which the provincial government requires.

No member of the SBGHC board attended the protest. Also missing was Huron Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell.
Later reached by phone, Mitchell said she had only heard rumours of the protest and was not formally invited. She had already planned events that day in Grand Bend and Blyth.

She said she has spoken to SBGHC CEO Paul Davies and health ministry officials about the issue.
"We will continue to look at how the service is provided," she said.

"I have to ensure that my (constituents) have access to services. How those services are provided, that's the board's decision," she said.

Local councillors Anne Eadie (Huron-Kinloss) and Randy Roppel and Gord Campbell (Kincardine) attended the protest, along with former Kincardine mayor Glenn Sutton.

"We should take back the Kincardine hospital. Enough is enough. We're sick as hell and we're not going to take anymore," said Sutton, evoking applause.

Other speakers voiced frustration that the SBGHC board did not consult the public before deciding to change physio services. Some echoed support for de-amalgamation from the SBGHC, which runs hospitals here and in Chesley, Walkerton and Durham.
"I think (de-amalgamation) is long overdue. And I think if we don't act now, (service loss) is going to continue," said Kincardine Hospital Foundation representative Gregg McClelland after the protest.

"If you take a look at Hanover and Goderich - which run their own and are very, very small hospitals - they're thriving," he added.

Speaking on behalf of doctors working at the hospital, Roth said their focus is on saving existing physio services, not de-amalgamating from the SBGHC. "Right now, that hasn't been an issue that we've discussed," she said.
Roth said she was happy with the community support shown for doctors who have spoken publicly against the physio change. "It's just amazing to see that the community cares about what is going on in the hospital," she said.
Roth added she was pleased to receive news that morning from local MP Paul Steckle's office.

A search of provincial and federal health legislation by a librarian with the Library of Parliament turned up no provisions saying a private clinic can operate in a public hospital.

Local residents requested the information from Steckle's office via e-mail, and forwarded the response to Roth. It was read aloud to protestors.

By the time Roth and Dr. Wiebe had descended the hospital hill to meet demonstrators, many people had already left to picket Carol Mitchell's downtown office.

Later Thursday, Kincardine and Walkerton doctors presented their concerns at a private board committee meeting. Roth said board chair John Haggerty told her after the meeting the board would have a second look at the issue and meet Wednesday evening (Aug. 6).