New Ontario health minister hammered with questions on home care provider lawsuit

Ontario’s new minister of health and long-term care faced a flurry of questions from the Opposition on Tuesday, including queries about an ongoing lawsuit filed by home care providers against the provincial government.

CBC Toronto reported on Monday that 11 publicly-funded home-care organizations — including the Victorian Order of Nurses, the largest not-for-profit provider in Ontario — are suing the government to halt the creation of a new provincial home care agency.

The lawsuit alleges that the Liberals’ plan “puts home care patients at risk by giving exclusive authority for self-directed care services to an untested provincial government agency.”

The move to create a provincial agency, called Personal Support Services Ontario, has support from the Service Employees International Union, which represents some 12,000 home care and community service workers. 

During question period at Queen’s Park, Ontario PC interim leader Vic Fedeli said that the organizations account for about 95 per cent of the home care services available in Ontario. 

“Why continue to fight?” Fedeli asked of Helena Jaczek in her first question period as minister of health. 

“Will the new minister’s first order of business be to scrap this SEIU-backed agency?”

The Ontario Liberals’ plan to create the new agency was developed in such secret that it only became public after CBC Toronto first reported on it last November. At the time, some critics suggested that the ultimate purpose is to consolidate workers for the SEIU, which will almost certainly represent employees hired by Personal Support Services Ontario.

The SEIU has close ties to the Ontario Liberals, and has financially supported the party in the past. The group has lobbied for a self-directed care model since at least 2016. 

“The government set up this agency with no consultation, and no explanation of how it will benefit our most vulnerable,” Fedeli said. 

“This makes it painfully obvious that this agency is set up solely to benefit the SEIU.”

In response, Jaczek said nearly identical models have been used in other jurisdictions, such as some U.S. states, France, Germany and Australia, among others, with notable success. Streamlining services under the umbrella of a single agency will help patients navigate through the system more easily, she added. 

“It could provide home care clients with funding to purchase services in their care plan or to employ people to provide these services. And so, what we believe is, there will be a small group of patients with chronic long-term care needs where they want an especially strong relationship with their care provider,” Jaczek said.

“We know that continuity of care for the elderly, when it comes to home care, is a very important aspect of the care plan.”

Personal Support Services Ontario is set to begin hiring in the spring. 

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