Friday, September 16, 2011

Ontario Health Coalition Rally

On September 13th 2011 I witnessed the power and impact of a collective voice of Canadians standing together for a common cause – to protect our public health for the benefit of all. Niagara was represented by two bus loads, wearing yellow shirts, carrying the memories of those we lost to the horrors of C. difficile. Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Welland and St. Catharines found ordinary people who took the time from their daily routines to band together and become one voice. On the bus to Toronto we had seniors, those in between and even a young couple with a child. Sadly once again St. Catharines did not find any of our elected representatives who were willing to take the time and join together with the people who suffered.

I heard people recount stories of victims of the C. difficile outbreak, how a simple surgery resulted in death. Most alarming was information that patients had been diagnosed with C. difficile and isolated as early as February 2011. One key point was common to all, our lost trust in the NHS and our government. Yet there was optimism that change could come, that with the appointment of the provincial supervisor truth may be made public. Only time will bear witness if this is a false hope. For we were ready to join with Canadians from all over Ontario in a combined voice and combined purpose.

Upon arrival to Queens Park we were greeted by a sea of waving flags representing many different interest groups. Unions such as the CAW and CUPE together with banners from the Council of Canadians and the Ontario Nurses Association, the Seniors Alliance and more. This was not a day for politics, it was to tell all candidates that we must protect our public health care system for all Ontarians.  

The gathering of concerned Ontarians from across the province together with our yellow shirt brigade from Niagara at Queen's Park.

The first speaker was Natalie Mehra director of the Ontario Health Coalition. As Natalie Mehra spoke the true enormity of the situation we face in Ontario became clear. We are at a crisis point in our health care system in Ontario, nothing proves that more than what we faced in Niagara through the C. difficile outbreak. Ontario Nurses Association President Linda Haslam-Stroud provided a grave warning, she said that we “face enormous risk.... the future of public health care is at risk.” 

Both speakers spoke of the realities that we face here in Ontario. The combined sentiment was clear regardless of which political party was to win the coming election, health care in Ontario had to be the major issue to deal with. Following Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition and ONA representatives was Niagara Falls Councillor Wayne Gates. Mr. Gates made public the enormity of what we face in Niagara. Ludicrous cost cutting measures that result in higher expenditures elsewhere on the balance sheet with no accounting for risk to the public. Wayne Gates brought out our sentiments towards the NHS management clearly, you should all resign! Yet the most heart breaking voice was that of Steven McMullen, the son of a woman from St. Catharines who suffered so much at the hands of a health system put in place to protect her and all of us in Niagara. Click here to listen to Steven McMullen McMullen's voice at times cracking with emotion as he read his words describing the horrors his mother faced. Listening to what Mrs. McMullen endured would shock the most hardened soul. A full public inquiry must be conducted into the NHS and its handling of the C. difficile outbreak. Since our provincial government has appointed a supervisor to run the NHS this now provides the Ombudsman of Ontario jurisdiction to conduct an inquiry. Every effort must be made to achieve this goal. A total of 39 innocent victims passed away in the Niagara area, with the greatest number here in St. Catharines. The NHS brings in a public relations professional to save its image. This professional has only one loyalty and that is to his client not the people of Niagara, not the people of St. Catharines.

Natalie Mehra Director of the Ontario Health Coalition

Linda Haslam-Stroud President of the Ontario Nurses Association 

Wayne Gates Niagara Falls Councillor & President CAW Local 199

Mr. Steven McMullen

Each speaker brought the same sentiment, health care has to be the number one priority for us all. People came from all over the province to send that message to our politicians. This was an opportunity for the three major parties to express their intentions and especially to listen to the people. Karleen Nation, a Candidate for York West to her credit came on behalf of the PC Party and braved the heckles. The NDP representative was called three times by Natalie Mehra but did not come forward to the podium. Premier McGuinty simply didn't bother. We were told they were on the election trail in Ontario. True Premier McGuinty was on the election trail but he was in Toronto. I guess he was too busy to make an appearance and listen to the people of Ontario.

Queen's Park represented by security guards and the long arm of the law.  I wonder if that cannon was left over from the G20 Summit.

We are faced with an election in a few short weeks. It is an opportunity to send a message to those who wish to govern. Our politicians will try and juggle many issues to appease an audience. They will speak of the economy and jobs, they will make promises on health care. We have to keep them to those promises. Minister Jim Bradley has pointed to how the Liberals have increased funding for the Niagara Health System. Then why the restructuring and massive cuts to beds, front line staff and closures of essential services? Putting those who are most vulnerable at great risk. Niagara is a frightening example of dollar value decisions over quality care gone dramatically wrong. WE HAVE HAD 39 DEATHS! Thirty nine innocent victims who went into hospital needing medical assistance and never went home to their families. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!! Yet with all the cuts and closures the management of the NHS still walks away with massive salaries. WHY? How have they earned any portion of it? I guess the PR fella will tell us how tough their job is and how they are needed. My response is simple, ask the families of those who died and how much they are worth. Ask Steven McMullen how much they are worth.

The march down University Ave. past hospitals and hospital staff.

At 53 this was the first time I had been at a rally or a march. I came here for my children, for all our children and for myself. What I witnessed has left me filled with pride, that as Canadians all too often we sit in silent acceptance not on September 13th. On this day we raised our voices together as one and forgot individual ideologies for one purpose.

We stopped the traffic on busy University Ave. but could not get the attention of our political leaders.

We can make a change. We have to!

At first I thought that Premier McGuinty or Health Minister Deb Matthews arrived to explain what Excellent Care For All Act 2010 really meant, you know better late than never.  But alas I was wrong.  So we headed home. 

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