The hunger games

Op-ed

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Last week, community members were once again asking in local community forums about how, as a newcomer to North Grenville, to get a doctor in Kemptville. This is, of course, known by long-time North Grenville residents as “the laughable question”. A doctor in Kemptville accepting NEW patients? Such a joke is almost too racy for primetime TV!

In one community forum, one resident warned another not to give up their family doctor if they moved from Ottawa and are still on an Ottawa doctor’s patient roster. This is very sound advice, and kudos to this person for looking out for a new neighbour. The problem is that this advice shouldn’t need to be given at all! Kemptville is a booming hub. I can say – as someone who lives, not in North Grenville, but precisely 4.6 kilometres from the North Grenville border – that people from outside of the Municipality see Kemptville as their destination when they need to “go into town”. 

Even for residents of Winchester and Chesterville, Kemptville is a “hub”. It’s the place with the big department stores, the countless specialty small businesses, the multitude of fast food restaurants and some higher end restaurants. North Dundas residents value shopping local, but it’s a small enough municipality that sometimes a larger “hub” is a necessity, and Kemptville fills that need. 

As a South Mountain resident, I can’t wrap my head around Kemptville not having enough family doctors. How is it that the biggest small town in the area is lacking in a fundamental necessity for its residents? I contemplated this for a long while before deciding to put words down on the matter, and there were many different culprits at whom I could have pointed the finger. Is local Council not pushing enough to attract doctors to North Grenville? Is Kemptville itself simply not attractive to working professionals? Are patients from outside the Municipality coming in and taking all the spaces?

The answer to all of the above is simply… NO. Think higher up on the ladder. How has the Province allowed us to be in such a situation where we are competing with other municipalities to attract doctors? Why do we accept that it’s okay to pit ourselves against others for access to fundamental medical care? It’s like the hunger games, and we act like it isn’t completely insane. Well… it is!

I am not one of the many people who believe that private healthcare is the solution. I grew up poor and often feeling “second class”. I don’t have a problem with wealthier people buying nicer homes, nicer cars, and fancier dinners; but fundamental rights, like access to healthcare, should be equal for all. Wealthier people are already at an advantage in too many situations. The wealthier class has access to better lawyers when faced with a civil or criminal matter, and better quality education for their children. Privatized healthcare would just add to the divide. 

I suggest that it’s time to start seeing tax payments as transactions. Most of us pay thousands of dollars every year – directly off our paycheques – in provincial taxes. On most non-food purchases, we give 8% of this already-taxed money to the Province in the form of sales tax. For anyone earning more than $20,000 per year (a very outdated cutoff in this economy), we also pay for healthcare directly every year when filing income tax returns. This annual fee can be up to $900 depending on income. 

Surely we can see healthcare in this province as not being “free”, but rather as something that has been paid for? And yet, in many cases, services are not adequately delivered, even though we’re fully paid up. A similar arrangement in the world of private transactions would be called a “scam”. 

Perhaps there should be no “Ontario Health Premium” (i.e. annual health tax) for those unable to secure a family doctor. Perhaps the Province should act as any other responsible paid service provider and incentivise hospital employees like doctors and nurses to stay in their roles, while also hiring more professionals to meet the demand of those who pay for services (i.e. all Ontarians). Perhaps it’s time for us to stop calling healthcare “free”, and instead insist that we receive the proper healthcare we already pay for. There is no excuse for 10-hour hospital wait times, frequent hospital closures, and the near impossibility of getting on a family doctor’s patient roster.

It’s time for the Province to stop manipulating us into thinking that our local governments are the problem. Competing for doctors and nurses is ridiculous and distracts from the Province’s overall mismanagement of healthcare that has gone on long enough. We don’t want private healthcare. We just want public healthcare that works.

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