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February 23, 1999
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Provincial ambulance tour warns of privatization danger

Union says costly U.S.-style system not accountable

By Theresa Boyle
Toronto Star Health Reporter

Paramedics and their unions are warning Ontario residents of the threat of pay-as-you-go ambulance service by taking their message on the road in an ambulance painted with credit card logos.

The province raised the spectre of privatization by downloading responsibility for ambulance services to municipalities last year, says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

``We're hoping that this ambulance tour is going to highlight for people the emergence in this province of a for-profit, American-style health-care system which the Harris government is pushing,'' he told reporters outside Queen's Park yesterday.

Experience in the United States strongly suggests that a for-profit ambulance system is riddled with problems, including poor service, escalating costs and a lack of accountability, Hurley noted.

It's for precisely these reasons that the province scrapped the for-profit model of ambulance delivery 20 years ago, he said.

`American companies are actively knocking on the municipalities' doors saying (they) can do it a lot better'

But a spokesperson for Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer said private ambulance operators have been working in Ontario for almost four decades.

More than a third of ambulance service in the province is privately run and patient care has not suffered as a result, said Jeremy Adams.

Municipalities are currently deciding how to offer ambulance service next year and they need to know that private, for-profit service is not cheaper, said Michael Dick, a paramedic in Durham Region and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

``American companies are actively knocking on the municipalities' doors saying (they) can do it a lot better,'' he said. ``As soon as you put any form of profit into the system, it's obviously going to be more expensive.''

For example, an ambulance trip in the United States costs more than twice as much as it does in Ontario, Dick noted.

``A huge part of the difference represents profits,'' he said.

The health of Ontarians will be compromised if the ambulance system is not run publicly, Dick warned.

``Private, for-profit systems . . . are responsible to their shareholders,'' he said.

``They're worried about what type of insurance people have, how much money they have. They're not really too concerned about the health care that . . . is going to be delivered.''

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