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Death by 1,000 Cuts

Posted: May 30, 2016

(May 30, 2016)

Author: Christine Blizzard, The Toronto Sun

The prognosis is dire. Deep cuts to the province’s hospitals have left them on life support.

Sydennham District Hospital in Wallaceburg is symptomatic of the squeeze that’s strangling small-town hospitals across the province. The community was asked to pitch in and raise cash for a new palliative-care unit. Residents rose to the challenge – raising $100,000. Five years later, the unit was closed.

“They lost their palliative care unit and people have to move away from their hometown to die,” said Natalie Mehra, of the Ontario Health Coalition – a group that’s fighting drastic cuts to the province’s hospitals.

“Whole towns have donated – sometimes through payroll deductions. Those towns have donated for 100 years,” she said.

Mehra and her group are planning a provincewide referendum calling on the Liberal government to restore funding to hospitals and come up with a rational plan, based on a bed count, for hospital planning.

She said the province is deliberately planning for chaos and moving patients out as quickly as possible.

“Ontario is planning purposely to run its hospitals in crisis perpetually,” Mehra told a Toronto Sun editorial board last week.

“The point is to keep the pressure on clinicians to force the patients out even when they’re not comfortable with the frailty of the patients,” she said.

Patients are pushed out the hospital doors earlier, prompting more hospital re-admissions.

Instead of spending money on hospitals and nurses, we’ve increased the number of “technocrats,” she said.

“People are livid at the hospital CEO salaries, which have gone up far faster than the rate of inflation,” added Mehra. “People are livid at the technocratic revolution that’s happened.”

The government has spawned a hospital bureaucracy that fills buildings and costs big bucks, but doesn’t add one more health professional to the system.

“What we’re calling for is a capacity plan to attach planning to actual population need for care,” she said.

“How do they decide where they’re building new hospitals and how many beds will be in them?”

She believes some hospital decisions are politically motivated. Plans to redevelop the West Lincoln Hospital in Grimsby were shelved, despite it being a high-growth area. Mehra speculated that decision may have been taken because the hospital was located in the riding of former PC leader Tim Hudak.

“The community had already raised 50%. It had been approved in the budget. It happens to be in Tim Hudak’s riding, and in the next budget they cancelled the capital redevelopment. So this growing community doesn’t deserve a hospital after it has fundraised and been approved at every level for a decade and a half.”

Mehra questioned the government’s policy that closes beds in favour of having patients cared for at home.

“When they’re closing down operating rooms or cutting down on chemotherapy, that’s not being replaced at home,” she said.

The whole system is gridlocked. Tertiary care hospitals cannot discharge to the community hospitals because there aren’t enough beds.

Tory health critic Jeff Yurek insisted the government needs to keep politics out of decision-making.

“Funding should be determined by patient need. What we do know is that government mismanagement is causing cuts at the expense of patients across the board,” Yurek said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath argued that the Liberals’ cuts must stop.

“Patients in rural Ontario, in the north, and in our towns and cities, are paying the price,” she said. “People know that you cannot improve health care by cutting hospitals. Premier Wynne has to stop firing health-care workers. She has to stop hospital overcrowding.

“And she has to restore stable, predictable funding to hospitals across the province that,, at a bare minimum, keeps up with inflation and population growth year after year.”

A health ministry spokesman said health care is about more than just hospitals.

“It’s about the front-line staff that provide care,” the spokesman said. “That’s why our government continues to increase the number of nurses working in Ontario.”

He said Liberals have added more than 26,000 nurses – including 11,000 registered nurses.

“This is a growth rate of 23.7% – almost double the increase of Ontario’s population during the same ¬†period. And, as the independent College of Nurses of Ontario clearly states, there were almost ¬†3,000 net-new nursing positions in Ontario last year.

“This is the 11th consecutive year of growth – a fact the Ontario Health Coalition doesn’t acknowledge.”

To sign up to the coalition’s hospital referendum, go to ontariohealthcoalition.ca

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