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Room is still dirty: A photojournalism expose of the Ottawa Civic Hospital, by David Julian Wightman

Chantal Sundaram

July 31, 2023
Room is still dirty
A photojournalism expose of the Ottawa Civic Hospital, by David Julian Wightman
The Ford government along with crony hospital administrators are working hard to hide the human face of privatization. A photojournalism expose, Room is still dirty, by a terminated hospital cleaner and housekeeper, shows the graphic reality of an Ontario hospital in decline, sliding towards the cataclysmic reality of what privatization will bring everywhere if we don’t stop it.

David Wightman blew the whistle on the Ottawa Civic hospital over the cost of encroaching privatization and corporate mismanagement to both patients and the working conditions of hospital workers. First, his written expose Code SOS at the Ottawa Hospitalfor the local Ottawa progressive publication The Leveller, laid bare the behind-the-scenes reality of working at the Civic. Then his photos documenting the deteriorating conditions inside the hospital were shown in an Ottawa public gallery space, Club SAW, on July 19.

The photos were grouped by theme. From “Catering to Chaos” documenting the enormous waste of corporate catering, to “No Prison Orange in Hospital“ showing incarcerated patients in shackles with no OHIP coverage, to May Court MayDay, which shows how the May Court hospital library ceased functioning during the pandemic and became a depot for rags and mops – it was an inside view of what is already going on as the public system is starved and eroded by the piecemeal encroachment of private contracts.

The photo collections “Perpetually soiled” and “Trashed” show mountains of garbage and linen bags and overflowing garbage cans.
But the caption cautions against blaming the workers instead of the monopoly third party service provider and the hospital administration.

How can we stop privatization?

The photo exhibit included a panel moderated by community organizar/activist Khadija El Hilali with David Wightman, Ed Cashman, coordinator of the Ottawa Health Coalition, and Farhat Rehman of Moms Offering Mutual Support. Local NDP MPP Joel Harden was scheduled to speak but had a last-minute conflict.
All three talked about the growing inequities of the hospital system and the need to take action, from lobbying for ethical healthcare access for prisoners, to the inspiring popular referendum against Ford’s legislation to allow private clinics to operate in public hospitals. Following this Ontario-wide referendum, held by the Ontario Health Coaltion and its regional members, local membership in the Ottawa Health Coalition grew exponentially. 
While much of the resistance to healthcare privatization in Ottawa has been focussed on the Riverside campusof the hospital system, where a private clinic was allowed to operate even before the passing of Ford’s Bill. There is also widespread concern about the state of the Civic campus – but also concern over the current plans to replace it. 

A new Ottawa hospital campus is now under construction. One of the final captions of Room is still dirty, titled “Subject to Change Without Notice” asks “who will own the hospital” and “what services and procedures will be privatized?” What are the implications of building a hospital on a private-public partnership model? The exhibit asserts that corporate profiteering was not the model employed by the administrators a century ago when the Civic hospital was built, and asks: what will this new privatized “public” hospital be like for workers and patients a hundred years from now?

During the discussion, a retired physician active with a group of environmentalist physicians spoke against the plans for the new hospital megacampus, the lack of proper investigation into soil toxicity, the destruction of tree coverage, and the lack of community consultation about what kind of health facility is needed. Meanwhile, the current decrepit campus of the Civic hospital is scheduled to become a private long-term care facility.

A collection of photos of medical dummies used as stand-ins for real people poses the stark question: Are We The Dummies? The caption warns: “Privatization will only increase the exploitation and immiseration of workers, which will further erode patient care.
All for the sake of enriching already wealthy individuals and corporate interests.” 

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