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GRITS SLAM UNION CLAIMS, PUSH HEALTH BILL THROUGH (The London Free Press)

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The London Free Press 2006.03.02 Early City &Region C5 photo of GEORGE SMITHERMAN KEITH LESLIE, CP TORONTO 372

Doomsday scenarios painted by unions over changes to the way health services are administered in Ontario should not be believed, the health minister said yesterday as his Liberal government used its majority to push through the legislated changes. Health−care workers say the legislation, which will replace Ontario's district health councils with Liberal−appointed officials, will lead to more privatization of services, but Health Minister George Smitherman insisted that is not the case. "I'm disappointed that there are those levels of fears," he said yesterday before the bill was passed by a 60−26 vote. The opposition parties voted against it. Union leaders would have the public believe that "the sky is going to fall," Smitherman said, adding, "I assure you that it isn't." Unions representing nurses and other health workers warned the bill would lead to the delivery of more health services by for−profit providers, as well as more user fees for patients. "The legislation actively encourages the transfer of services out of the hospitals and into independent health facilities," said Linda Haslam−Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association. "Patients may have to pay out of pocket for services, for medications that would have been covered if they had been provided in the hospital." Smitherman defended the government's decision to appoint people to local health networks instead of having them elected. "It's appropriate that we appoint people that we think reflect the capacity that we see as important," he said. "Those people who said they wanted to elect them, they just want to set up what works for them around here, the constant tension game." Smitherman said the local networks will help improve health care by giving patients the opportunity to move seamlessly through the system in their communities. The networks will gain control, he said, by having the power to decide how to spend provincial money in their district rather than leaving administration of the entire $33−billion health−care budget to provincial 133

03/02/2006

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