Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 1
April 27, 2011 12:07 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, ON)
I couldn’t have picked a more complicated beast to wrestle and it’s no wonder we don’t see health care in the headlines very often, but I humbly plead for your patience as I attempt to explain our conundrum. This impacts the Simcoe-Grey riding more than anyone realizes, because our voters may play a large role in deciding the fate of this truly dear, Canadian treasure.
We’re already familiar with challenges to our public health system. Private surgery clinics and medical facilities in British Columbia have admitted to double billing the government and patients (see Cambie Clinic); as well as privately billing convenience fees that allow patients to jump the queue. Up to five provinces (including Ontario) allow this transgression, resulting in a culture of for-profit health care. Although this practice is illegal according to the Health Canada Act, under the Harper government these clinics are not being prosecuted.
In fact, Stephen Harper has taken every opportunity to promote the privatization of health care since his early days with the NCC:
This position was maintained throughout previous elections and includes the 2011 Leaders’ Debate:
That’s the easy part out of the way, but you’ll have to bear with me through the next stage of explanation. As it might not be readily apparent, the following are facts you’ll need to navigate through Part ii.
Dr. Kellie Leitch is our official Simcoe-Grey, Conservative Party of Canada candidate. Her arrival on our scene was also a source of ruffled feathers. The local riding president teed off with the PMO over having Leitch “parachuted” into their meetings. These are not my words; they’re from the party itself. At the time it was all the talk around town, as many were demanding answers for Guergis – and still are.
In an act of solidarity the riding president quit at the onset of elections, as did many others in the local executive. The split doesn’t appear to be amicable, as they went public with their opinions and didn’tmince any words. On a positive note however, this left the association free to re-establish itself with new support at the helm.
This wasn’t the only divisive controversy though. For weeks a saga dragged on between the mayor of Wasaga Beach and Dr. Leitch’s election campaign. On every local radio station the mayor gave interviews. On television and in newsprint the battle continued. It was a he-said, she-said dispute about the legitimacy of candidate endorsements. Leitch defended herself in turn and after a month of bickering, the two camps finally compromised.
The good doctor endured a challenging welcome upon unveiling to locals, but she’s remained steadfastand generated a swelling of support to her credit. Dr. Leitch continues to dominate our front page on consecutive weeks with visits from high profile Conservatives. Senator Hugh Segal attends consistent events; Defense Minister Peter MacKay was the guest of honour last week and former OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino has most recently joined the Simcoe-Grey campaign alumnae.
Needless to say when national personalities frequent the back woods, there’s a ripple effect amongst residents. Waiting in line at the convenience store can lead to chatter. So too can the gas station. The coffee shop, gymnasium, pharmacy, grocery store and dog park are a list of places you can share your two cents worth. Our townsfolk are still debating whether Helena Guergis should have been kicked out of her party and the majority I’ve spoken with are sympathetic to her plight. You could say there’s been a tug-of-war between loyalty and star-power either way.
Now you have the basis of how we came to meet Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is greatly esteemed in her craft and was appointed as Health Canada Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth. In Part 2, I’ll elaborate on the pertinent, professional contributions that tie our local flavour to the title of the story. Thanks again for your patience.
Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 2
April 27, 2011 12:07 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
To look at the players in this movement to privatize health care, we need to examine Kellie Leitch, our Simcoe-Grey Conservative candidate. Again, these are just the facts that constitute pieces of the puzzle our riding has been fumbling with.
Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, holds numerous professional positions, and I applaud her courage to take on so many projects. She is a professor at the University of Toronto; regular adviser toHealth Canada; board member of Genome Canada; trustee at Dundee REIT; chair of pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario; assistant dean at the University of Western Ontario’s school of medicine and dentistry; pediatric -orthopedic surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto; and chair of the UWO business school ‘s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership. She maintains part-time medical practices in at least three different regions.
If only I could squeeze that many hours in my day, I would begin to feel a deeper connection with Wonder Woman. (I borrowed that line from a dear colleague because I could certainly relate.) Clients of community resources must often rely on assistance from elected officials to work out some of their difficulties. It might involve expediting a birth certificate, advocating grants for a women’s shelter, managing relations with Veterans Affairs or trying to obtain information about income tax.
If you’ve ever tried to call a government office and sat on hold for two hours, you should understand how valuable an MP’s time is. Can Leitch really juggle so many responsibilities at the same time? At the onset of campaigning, she sought additional hospital privileges in our area and promised to run a clinic out of Orillia, Ont., as well. If she made the leap to politics, we could lose the precious services of a doctor.
Throughout the course of our riding debates, however, constituents changed sentiments. The public is a finicky bunch. Once the crowd accepted she would remain engaged in health care delivery, they began to pressure Leitch on her role as parliamentarian. Her response at recent events has changed to say she will now be a full-time MP. Depending on your point of view, some groups would have to be disappointed with her decision. Regrettably, no one can be all things to all people.
As Kirk Whitlock, a newly graduated teacher, says, “I am concerned how a professional with such extensive external demands elsewhere (volunteer, chairperson, dean, director and surgeon) can truly commit to being our full-time MP.”
Prior to Leitch’s bid for office, she advised Health Canada, helping the Conservative government develop their proposed fitness tax credit. It’s unfortunate this benefit won’t be expanded until the deficit is eliminated, but it shows her good relationship with the party.
Sitting on the board of directors at Genome Canada, another of her positions, is no small feat. They’re working on human DNA, genetically modified fish, plants and food. Some locals are particularly curious about this endeavour, and it doesn’t help that their questions have gone unanswered. Kirk told me his “queries have been dismissed and I confess it makes me uncomfortable.”
But it’s Leitch’s position at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership that concerns us most, and I’ll address it next.
Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 3
April 27, 2011 12:08 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
The know how
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)
Leitch’s post at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership, an institution that seeks to provide health care professionals with a degree in business health, has seen her become a driving force in translating entrepreneurial pursuits to the realm of health care. In an official white paper she states, “Since the health of a population is directly related to its economic productivity and global competitiveness, then health care delivery must be viewed as an economic engine and not a cost. The health care sector in Canada is the largest ‘business sector’ in the country, yet few think of it in this way. More often, health care is seen as an extension of government or public service, and not as a key component of our economy capable of producing greater wealth and prosperity.”
Leitch and her co-authors go on to say the Canadian health care system is adverse to her innovation and requires new policies to accommodate it. She claims UWO’s health innovation centre was created to “remedy these problems.” The paper mentions renegotiating health care funding in 2014 and includes quotes from Tony Clement in support of her proposal. It goes on to argue for two-tiered funding that would allow private “financial drivers” into our system, but oddly, Leitch denied these very notions to our local newspaper as recently as yesterday.
The health innovation centre’s plan is to create “living laboratories” of the basic elements of health care: everything from paramedics to the doctor’s office, from the emergency room to the operating room. They especially would like to engage “consumers of health care” in technology. The white paper broaches the subject of health information technology in particular. It mentions expanding e-health into personal health records that patients can access from Microsoft, Google, Facebook or even their smartphones.
When I first heard this suggestion, I found myself quite alarmed. What about safety, privacy, fraud, misdiagnosis and cost to the patient? Overall, I thought it must be a theological argument. That was until Leitch made national headlines with her proposals.
The Financial Post article describes Leitch’s scenario of “a mother waking up to find her baby with an odd-looking rash. In an ideal health care environment, the mother can upload a picture of the rash to a website using her smartphone, be connected to live video conference with a doctor and have the proper ointment prescribed which she can pick up on her way to day care, without ever having to visit a hospital or clinic.”
Residents who’ve read the article have taken issue. Wasaga Beach has many senior citizens who aren’t always comfortable using smartphones. A lot of other residents are unemployed and can’t afford a cellphone or medical apps to receive service.
“Low-income families will not be able to access doctors through smartphone applications. The Wasaga Beach and surrounding area is already battling with severe unemployment, and many of the clients I work with have a hard time putting food on the table, let alone paying for internet,” says domestic violence worker Kim Stubbington. “I also work with older clients who wouldn’t be comfortable operating a smartphone or talking about their problems in the open.”
Then there are some who wonder how many times that rash could be misdiagnosed or medicine prescribed that may cause an adverse reaction. Would everyone know the difference between flesh eating disease, skin cancer and gout from a smartphone picture? Could it decipher between a sprain and a fracture? Apparently other companies have already seen the dollar signs and created a smartphone plugin that can detect cancer for just $200.
The UWO health sector MBA program that Leitch oversees seeks to cross-train our doctors, nurses and researchers as partners to big pharma and corporations with vested interest. The core curriculum consists of: pharmacoeconomics; intellectual property, licensing and the regulatory environment of health; health care management; financing private health care sector enterprise; managing the political and economic environment; and private health sector strategy.
Considering the names of the courses, I don’t think there’s any denying a private push for health care, and this is making a lot of folks uneasy. Leitch’s white paper also asserts we should discourage accomplished health professionals from leading our institutions if they haven’t completed her program. Controversial, indeed.
In Part 4, we’ll add Telus, TD Bank and the University of Toronto to the mix.
Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 5
April 27, 2011 12:10 PM
Region: Ontario Topics:
In changing society’s mindset, it is best to start with schools and educators. This is one of four goals emphasized by Kellie Leitch and the UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership conference. In a separate presentation by the doctor under the University of Toronto brand, she sheds light on how these plans may impact students here and throughout Ontario.
The presentation lays out definitions of innovation and commercialization. Innovation means to introduce a new idea, device or novelty. Commercialization, according to Leitch, is to “manage a business for profit and to leverage quality for more profit.”
I asked Angela Regnier, executive director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, about the presentation. She criticized it: “It’s very disappointing to see faculty at the University of Toronto unabashedly engage in profiteering of research. Selling off university research to private enterprise skews the goals of university research, by creating an atmosphere of misconduct and preventing research for the public good. Our faculty and universities should be accountable to the public, not for-profit corporations.”
After a passionate and personable conversation, Regnier provided a report that details student concerns with the commercialization of education and research. It’s titled Public Risk Private Gain, produced by the Canadian Federation of Students, and it’s certainly worth the read. It would appear private enterprise has been a challenge to our higher learning institutions for some time, and they are consistently fending off corporate interference.
So I guess we know where the vote mob stands. The final nod will be up to Simcoe-Grey residents on May 2. The bigger question remains: Do all of us know the choice we’ll be making?