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Patient advocacy group worries Conservatives would merge, close hospitals

TORONTO - A patient's advocacy group is worried the health policies of the three main political parties aren't getting much attention in the Ontario election campaign, and warns the Conservatives would merge many hospitals.

The Ontario Health Coalition calls the health platforms of all three parties "perfunctory and shallow," but is especially concerned with the Tory plan to merge 146 hospital corporations, covering nearly 230 local hospitals, into 30 to 40 "hubs."

Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra says PC Leader Tim Hudak's plans are similar to the large-scale hospital restructuring that occurred under former Conservative premier Mike Harris, but would go much further.

She says the entire health-care system would be in upheaval for years to come if the Tories win the June 12 election and put their plan into action.

The coalition says the main beneficiaries of merged hospitals are the CEOs, who see huge increases in pay after mergers are completed, and notes studies show the mergers often don't result in desired savings.

Mehra says both the Conservatives and Liberals would contract out more hospital services, while the NDP platform is silent on the issue.

The Conservatives and New Democrats both plan to eliminate local health integration networks set up by the Liberals, but the coalition says the NDP have not provided any details of how health services would be organized.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of a coalition report, to be released Tuesday, that warns more Ontarians would have to wait longer and travel farther to receive needed care in a hospital.

"It's absolutely cutting to the core, and it will result in centralization of services out of local towns and patients having to drive further for care," said Mehra.

"We are really worried about this. There's no protection for any level of services in any community hospitals."

The non-partisan coalition really just wants to get people asking questions about hospital services, home care and other health issues, added Mehra.

The group wonders how the NDP could promise a five-day home care guarantee and say they'll cut emergency room wait times in half and questions the Liberal's decision to freeze health-care funding for a third year.

"There's demonstrable evidence that really needed health-care services are being cut and privatized, especially in smaller and rural hospitals," said Mehra.

The report said Ontario hospitals are more overcrowded than ever and patient re-admissions are "extremely high," while community care remains a patchwork across the province and has been "deeply privatized."

"Home care funding has increased, but the number of patients off loaded from hospitals into home care has increased faster," concludes the report.

"After two decades of almost non-stop hospital restructuring by successive governments, Ontario has been left with the fewest hospital beds per person in the country."

The cost of restructuring soared into the billions of dollars, but Mehra said "there is no evidence that they ever achieved proposed cost savings."

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