Haliburton County and area residents are feeling the effects of hospital cutbacks. A year ago, the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (OSLA) began a joint initiative with the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Together, the groups released a report outlining the negative effects of cuts to hospital beds in Ontario. The initiative set up a hotline in 2011 asking people to call and give their experiences with Ontario’s healthcare system. OCHU President Michael Hurley says they received over 600 calls. 50 of those, he estimated, were from the Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District. The response was overwhelming, with the majority of people reporting poor care to seniors. The report includes over ten testimonies from people, which illustrate the lack of care, most often resulting in mortality.

The report states that over a period of 20 years, the province has cut 19,000 hospital beds. Hurley says that at the same time, the population grew by three million. “In addition, the first wave of baby boomers is aging and showing up for treatment,” he says. The most affected seems to be the availability of services like physiotherapy and speech pathology.

Hurley explains the situation five years ago where someone who suffered from a stroke would go through at least 32 visits from a speech pathologist and physiotherapist to help regain communication and mobility. Now, he says, those services have become privatized, leaving it up to the families to pay for it. If they can’t afford it, the victim isn’t taken care of properly.

The fundamental demand from the initiative is to stop cutting hospital beds and invest more into the community for at home care. Hurley says speech pathology and physiotherapy should no longer be privatized.

OSLA is meeting with the Minister of Health next week to present the report and put forward their solutions. Harley says the groups are looking at some sort of legal challenge on behalf of the elderly. A class action lawsuit on behalf of the elderly, who are not receiving adequate treatment, could be an option.

Harley says they’ve received positive response from people who have similar experiences. Moving forward, he says the groups will have to determine ways to get people involved, including holding public meetings to get people behind the initiative.