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Health care workers rally against Ontario's proposed Bill 60 in Barrie

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Hospital professionals and health care workers gathered outside the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie Thursday afternoon to protest Bill 60.

The bill, proposed in February last year, would allow more private clinics to open and conduct OHIP-covered surgeries and diagnostic services.

"The intent here is to take emergency measures that were enacted during COVID where we were having people do things that were outside their scope of practice because we were in a national emergency. What this bill will do is make those changes permanent, and it's just not safe," said Local 346 OPSEU President Elizabeth Watts.

Watts said it's a conflict of interest for taxpayers who are funding the public areas of the private clinics and believes there are no regulations to prevent the clinics from up-charging patients.

"It's pretty clear we don't need more buildings. We need more staff. We need investments in the system that we have," said Watts.

Medical radiation technologist and steward with Local 577 Gayatri Samaroo is concerned that the quality of care that patients will receive at the private clinics will be inadequate.

"When you privatize these services, what are you looking at? It's for profit - for profit for the investors of these clinics. When you go to a hospital, you know what the profit is? It is your health care. It's not going lie in anybody else's pockets," said Samaroo.

With staffing levels already critically low, Samaroo believes the bill will pull more funding and staff away from public hospitals, worsening the health care crisis.

"I came into COVID. I fought the good fight. I made sure people were alive and able to breathe. What did the government do? They gave us a kick in the butt. They gave us wage cuts," said Samaroo.

In a statement provided to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health said since the Ford government took office in 2018, over 60,000 new nurses and nearly 8,000 new doctors registered to work in Ontario.

"But we know more needs to be done," the statement continued. "That's why earlier this year, our government announced Your Health, our innovative plan to expand capacity in every corner of the province while bolstering our health care workforce.

To support this, our government introduced the Your Health Act (Bill 60), which, if passed, will strengthen oversight of community surgical settings while protecting the stability of doctors, nurses and other health care workers in our health care system."

Meanwhile, Watts said they plan to hold more rallies and keep the pressure on by delivering more staff-written letters to local MPPs.

They will also collaborate with the Ontario Health Coalition for a citizen-run referendum.

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