HEU to Romanow: Privatization the main threat to public health care

Seniors' care falls through gaps in Medicare The most serious threat to health care sustainability is the pressure to commercialize and privatize the full range of health services including long term and community care. That's the message delivered by Hospital Employees' Union president Fred Muzin to health care commissioner Roy Romanow on March 12 in Vancouver.

"Long-term residential care is not covered under the Canada Health Act," Muzin said. "And access is not guaranteed; there is no prohibition against user fees and extra charges, and private ownership is permitted.

"Over the years our members who work as front-line caregivers in these facilities have repeatedly told us that the quality of care, staffing and services are inferior in for-profit as compared to not-for profit facilities."

Muzin shared with Romanow some preliminary findings from an HEU study comparing for-profit and non-profit delivery of seniors' care. Those findings indicate that:

  • staffing levels were lower in the for-profits as compared to not-for-profit facilities;
  • in addition to user fees, the for-profits were more likely to charge residents extra (whether they can afford it or not) for medical supplies and equipment including barrier cream, simple dressings, diapers, wheelchairs, enemas and needles;
  • for-profits were also much more likely to charge a monthly recreation fee — if residents could not afford the fee they simply did not participate in recreational activities;
  • unhygienic conditions were cited for all for-profits, and on nine out of ten measures they scored worse than the not-for-profits on hygiene and maintenance;
  • for-profits ranked worse than the not-for-profits on five of seven food service quality measures;
  • there were staff fewer training opportunities in for-profits; and
  • management turnover rates were higher in for-profits than in not-for-profit facilities.

Muzin said that the Campbell Liberals' plans to increase private delivery, lower licensing standards and reduce access to publicly funded facilities will negatively impact seniors' care.

"The federal government needs to act decisively to protect health services for low income frail seniors," said Muzin. An important first step, adds Muzin, is "including long-term care in the Canada Health Act and by making federal funding conditional on not-for-profit delivery."

Romanow is holding hearings across the country into the future of health care and is expected to issue a final report by November. You can check out the interim report of the Commission on the internet at http://www.healthcarecommission.ca/.