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May 09, 2024

Grey and Bruce Health advocate co-leads health coalition-building, and plans for local and provincial rallies

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BY JOHN BUTLER — Retired teacher Norah Beatty, who lives at Kiowana Beach near Meaford, spends more than half of each day working on health for the rest of us in Grey and Bruce Counties. She’s not alone.

Norah is co-founder of the non-partisan Grey Bruce Health Coalition, a grass roots organization established last year in Grey and Bruce to advocate for health system improvement and reform. It’s one of a number of local health coalitions across the province that are allied with the Ontario Health Coalition. Said Norah in a recent letter to the South Grey News editor, “The Grey Bruce Health Coalition is fighting against privatization — to save individuals and the government money, to ensure the best care and to preserve access based on need, not the ability to pay. The Federal government transfers money to provinces with conditions attached but it is the responsibility of each province to decide how to spend that money. I never want to see the day when Canadians have medical debt, go bankrupt or go without care. This is not scare mongering. It is the reality in many countries.”

Norah’s teaching career lay in special education, and she served as a department head and vice principal at schools in the GTA. On retirement she and her husband, who is a native Owen Sounder, moved full time to their cottage near Meaford.

As a teacher and administrator Norah was involved in advocacy for children with learning disabilities and for women — and she always voted — but she hadn’t been involved in activism as intense as Coalition work.

Looking for a way to contribute to a better health system, she found nothing locally with the breadth she was looking for. But she made contact with a Health Coalition in nearby Simcoe County, and she was struck by the Coalition concept as a way to build public purpose in the face of an eroding health system. Privatization, underfunding, the primary care shortage, the closing of emergency departments in small hospitals and a long-term care system in crisis were reasons why she came to believe that the health system is too important to be left to politicians and professionals — a community voice was needed here, as it already existed in many other parts of Ontario and at the provincial level through the Ontario Health Coalition, which describes itself as “a network of over 400 grassroots community organizations representing virtually all areas of Ontario.”

In January 2023 Natalie Mehra, the Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, put Norah in touch with a kindred spirit in Bruce County — Brenda Scott from Chesley, who has a background in labour and government work. Brenda and Norah put their energies and organizational talents together, and by March 2023 the Grey Bruce Health Coalition was born. The Coalition currently has an email list of 190, and over 330 people have joined its Facebook group — a hundred of them joined after a Coalition discussion with Murray Calder on his Owen Sound phone-in radio show on CFOS. Norah points out that Brenda Scott is also Chair of the Ontario Health Coalition’s Small and Rural Hospital Committee, which will hold province-wide public hearings in June.

Two upcoming Coalition events — one local, one provincial — are on the horizon. On Saturday May 11 the Grey Bruce Health Coalition will hold a rally from 9:00 am to noon at the Owen Sound City Hall (speakers will be from 9:30 to 10:30.) “Given the recently announced removal of all ten inpatient beds from the Durham hospital, the need for our rally is even more urgent after this announcement,” says Norah.

On Thursday May 30, a provincial protest rally will take place, involving a march in Toronto starting at noon from the south side of Toronto City Hall’s Nathan Phillips Square (across from the Sheraton Hotel) to Queen’s Park, with a “protest stop” at the site of Maple Corporation (the private virtual care initiative that operates via a major investment from Loblaw), and ending at Queen’s Park. Norah says the May 30 date was chosen because it‘s a weekday before the Legislature takes its summer break.

Norah says these rallies build on successful past Coalition events, locally and provincially. In May 2023 the Ontario Health Coalition held a province-wide mass community-run referendum on whether privatization should take place in Ontario’s health system. Across the province, 378,726 people voted “no” to privatization (98% of the total vote.) Grey and Bruce alone produced over 10,000 votes opposing privatization. As well, a rally at Queen’s Park on the opening day of the Ontario Legislature (September 25) last year drew about 10,000 participants, 4,000 of whom arrived by bus from other parts of Ontario. “Even politicians who didn’t want to meet with us could clearly hear us,” said Norah.

In addition to these high profile events, Norah points to the crucial role played by Grey Bruce Coalition members and friends in handing out leaflets in public spaces and at public events. “Even a half hour distributing the message can reach dozens or hundreds of minds,” she says. Norah sees Coalition challenges in rural areas — it’s hard to reach a diffused population, and door-to-door canvassing can be difficult. For these reasons she’s enthusiastic about “made in Grey Bruce” coalition-building to overcome these challenges.

Norah is not concerned that many of the Coalition’s volunteers are elderly, although it welcomes support, help and membership from all ages. She says young people these days are under stress just to make a living and raise their families, and she feels seniors play a key social role in advocating for everyone. Still, the age gap is an issue when it comes to computer skills, she says with a smile: “We need to be computer and tech savvy. I have grown in that area but it still takes more time than a more skilled person would spend. Thank goodness for the help of my daughter and son-in-law!”

You can reach the Grey Bruce Health Coalition through its website, or by sending a message to contact@greybrucehc.ca . The Ontario Health Coalition’s website provides a wealth of background papers on health system issues being tackled by the Coalition.

Norah says she would love to hear from folks for any reason, but right now she is especially seeking volunteers to distribute leaflets or to accept a lawn sign. “After the May 30 provincial rally we will be distributing lawn signs to keep the issue front and centre, and we are asking people to sign up now if possible.”

Reflecting on her lifetime of advocacy work, Norah says, “I think I am still advocating — this time for all people to have access to medical care, and I am acutely aware of those who will be hurt the most if medical bills start becoming the norm. All kids have a right to an education to allow them to reach their potential and all people have a right, under the Canada health Act, to medical care regardless of their ability to pay or where they live. I can't bear the thought of losing that. We really just need to care for others and look beyond ourselves.”

And in terms of Norah’s role in the crucial educational component of Coalition activities?

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

 


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