Hospitals have always stood as pillars of our public health care system, but this pandemic reminds me of that line from the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi: “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
We may not always love going to the hospital, but we do love public health care, and our ability to access hospital care when we need it. When a health crisis strikes or surgery can save a life, we thank our lucky stars; you might not think you need it, but when you do, you’re darn happy you’re covered.
Unfortunately, after 30 years of hospital cutbacks and privatization, our coverage has been chipped away, piece by piece. Sometimes we don’t see the cracks until we’re falling into them but the pandemic showed us how deep they go.
According to public opinion research commissioned by OPSEU/SEFPO and released today, the majority of Ontarians believe that the COVID-19 crisis exposed a major problem in our hospitals when it comes to managing capacity to meet our health care needs.
With the ongoing threat of deadly variants and future crises, Ontarians want a new, and better, norm; they want public health care fixed, not privatized. Eight out of ten Ontarians think that having a properly funded universal public health care system is better for Ontario in preparing for future health threats than privatized health care services.
Perhaps that’s because they’ve witnessed the horrors of privatized health care during this crisis; the neglect, abuse and unnecessary loss of life at the hands of for-profit long-term care providers.
Perhaps that’s because Ontarians know that the severity of this crisis could have been minimized under a fully public system.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that support for public services like health care, and the front-line workers who provide them, is at an all-time high. The vast majority of Ontarians want to see more funding and staffing for Ontario’s hospitals, because they understand that building up our hospital capacity makes us better prepared for future emergencies.
And public support is quickly turning into activism. There’s no denying that our collective adversity has bred solidarity. Ontarians aren’t just worried about their health and the health of their loved ones, they are deeply concerned about the health of our beloved public health care system itself.
Ontarians don’t want a return to the deficit-obsessed mentality of austerity. They know that austerity and cuts are what got us into this mess in the first place. The old political playbook won’t work anymore; we need new solutions to fix our hospital capacity crisis.
We may not always love going to the hospital, but unlike Joni’s song, we do know what we’ve got and it’s not going anywhere. We love our public health care system and we’ll fight to protect it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas