Dear Health Minister Eric Hoskins,
As you know, my last blog was referenced by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as a foundation for her questions in the Legislature. I confess to being surprised (and honoured!) when you admitted you "particularly enjoy" reading my blogs. Thank you for your loyal readership.
Since I have your attention, I thought I might take this opportunity to give you some end-of-year advice, in keeping with the spirit of the season. As you know I have worked as a front-line family physician in Ontario for 25 years. You've worked mostly out of the country from 1987 to 2009, and then went into politics.
Don't get me wrong, you've done good humanitarian work outside of Canada (particularly in Sudan and Iraq). The charity you co-founded (War Child Canada) is one of the most noble ones I know, whose goal is to give kids in war torn regions a chance to reclaim their childhood. (As an aside: if any readers out there are still looking to donate to a charity this holiday season — please consider donating to War Child Canada. Children are our future, and all children across the world should be cherished.)
You need to ask yourself just how bad the situation is if a hospital CEO is speaking out.
The reality, however, is that by being outside of the province for so long, you may not be familiar with some political warning signs. So let me fill you in on some things you should be wary of.
Recently, Southlake Hospital CEO Arden Krystal spoke to CTV News and sounded the alarm about overcrowding at her hospital. She subtly threw shade at your government by suggesting you haven't allowed resources to keep up with the demand for services. I have personally NEVER heard a hospital CEO make PUBLIC comments that could be even remotely construed as critical of a minister of health. The reason is pretty simple — hospitals depend on your generosity to fund them. Critical comments of health ministers tend to cause, um, repercussions, so CEOs avoid making them. Minister, you need to ask yourself just how bad the situation is if a hospital CEO is speaking out.
The same, I would add, applies to the Ontario Hospital Association. While they have been more vocal than individual CEOs in the past, I have never heard the OHA publicly state that hospitals are on the "on the brink" of a "crisis" before. This is not good.
Next, you should know the Toronto Star has a long history of supporting the Liberal party (federal and provincial). The Star loyally continues to print pro-Liberal articles ad infinitum. Yet they, too, reported that hospitals are overcrowded, and in an editorial criticized the advent of "Hallway medicine." Look, you can expect the Toronto Sun and National Post to criticize you, but if the Star is giving you grief — that's a problem for you and your party.
Minister, have you ever read George Orwell? He said, "However much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing." In the memorable exchange (well, memorable for me, anyway) between you and Andrea Horwath, you said that the majority of hospitals are "well within capacity." Come on. My hospital hasn't been within capacity, never mind "well" within capacity, before or ever since you said that. Story after story after story in the press confirm that my hospital is not alone, and the system is, in fact, under major stress. Don't keep saying stuff that makes those of us on the front lines wonder what colour the sky is on the planet you are from.
The election is now six months away, and we have a full-on health care crisis.
I know it seems less than humble of me to say this, but in my very first blog on HuffPost Canada, I told you that you needed to stop taking draconian unilateral actions or prepare for a crisis around the time of the next provincial election. Guess what: the election is now six months away, and we have a full-on health care crisis. (I wish I could say it was prescience on my part, but it's simply a repeat of history from the 1990s.)
I know you're not happy with many of my blogs, and I've obviously not been happy with your stewardship of the health care system. But if we're going to get through this, you're going to have to work with front-line doctors like myself. I will say that you've made a reasonable first step by opening up some temporary beds in anticipation of the coming "flupocalypse." Increasing the number of nursing home beds is good, too, even though 5,000 in four years is nowhere near enough (we need about 30,000 right now, never mind four years from now).
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But what you really need to do in the New Year is articulate a clear, concise, integrated vision for how health care should be run in this province. Not just one-off programs like Patients First, but a true, consistent and overarching plan for provincial health care delivery. The only way to do that is for you to reach out and try to forge a co-operative relationship with your doctors that allows them a true say in how health care is delivered on the front lines.
Just some friendly advice from an old country doctor. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
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