Letter campaign calls for health-care funding boost in Outaouais

Advocates in the Outaouais have embarked on a letter-writing campaign urging the province to improve health services in the region.

Situation Outaouais Santé (SOS 07) is encouraging residents to send letters to their members of the national assembly in Quebec City demanding more funding.

According to the group, western Quebec is chronically underfunded, receiving 25 per cent less in health-care spending than other regions of the province.

"In my daily work I see the wait times, I see the difficulty people have navigating the system," said Alexandre Place, an emergency room physician at the Hull and Gatineau hospitals, who's spearheading the initiative. "I know that there are long wait times for certain elective procedures, and I think we have to do better for people."

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Public outcry

Health professionals in the region have long lobbied for improvements, but Place said he's hoping an orchestrated public outcry will be more effective in reaching the ears of decision-makers. 

"The letter is a way for citizens to express themselves and give a little boost to [MNAs] so they can go in and negotiate better services and more resources for us," he said.

Residents can register on the SOS 07 website and sign their names to a letter outlining their funding concerns. The group also plans to use the responses to generate a survey for candidates in the next provincial election.

SOS 07 joins a number of advocacy groups working to improve health care in the region.

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Alarm sounded

Andrew Gibson, president of Santé Outaouais 2020, said it's important for politicians to feel pressure from the public.

"The more people that are asking for the same things together, the more likely we are to see some action," Gibson said.

Advocacy group Équité Outaouais has already sounded the alarm, noting in a recent report that Outaouais residents often rely on health care services in neighbouring Ontario. For example, every year, hundreds of women from the region cross the Ottawa River to give birth.

Équité Outaouais also warned of a lack of health-care professionals and training in the region.

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Mathieu Lacombe, the provincial minister responsible for the Outaouais, said he learned of the existence of SOS 07 Tuesday morning and, as of Tuesday afternoon, hadn't been contacted by anyone from the group. He invited its representatives to contact him to make an appointment.

"If this new group wants to [track us], I think it cannot be a bad idea. We are accountable for our decisions," he said. "My door is open."

Lacombe said he has met with Équité Outaouais and Santé Outaouais 2020 to discuss regional health issues. He said over the past year, the Legault government made changes to the Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) — the organization responsible for overseeing hospitals and health services in the region — decentralizing some management and commissioning a plan to integrate 170 new beds.

In a statement to CBC, CISSSO said it was "constantly seeking to improve care and services," and is currently working with an expert to "review clinical trajectories."