The closure of the sleep clinic at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) is just the latest in a series of moves that are depriving local residents of health care where they live, Canada’s Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) says.

“When it comes to health care, the people of St. Thomas and district are being treated like second-class citizens,” says Carol Warner, staff representative for OPSEU Local 159, in a release. “Once the sleep clinic closes, up to 1,000 people a year will have to travel to Sarnia, Windsor, Paris, or London. All those hospitals have waiting lists.

“There is no reason a city of 38,000 people cannot offer the full range of health care services. The demand is there.”

The St. Thomas sleep clinic serves patients with sleep disorders, but also patients requiring gastrointestinal bypass surgery, people who have suffered a stroke, and even truck drivers who need testing to maintain their driver’s licences. STEGH says the clinic is closing because the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care does not provide direct funding for sleep assessments. Six polysomnographers and one support clerk are slated to their jobs.

“What we’re seeing in St. Thomas is happening across Ontario, both in hospitals and in public services generally,” says OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Under this government, Ontarians are increasingly facing a choice: either travel a long distance to get the service they need, or look for the service from a private operator. Either way, we all pay more. There isn’t any solution to the problem except to restore funding to our public services, and fast. This government brags that Ontario has the lowest per capita spending on public services of any province, but that’s something to be ashamed of, not proud of.”