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Brockville hospital cuts hurt patients

Posted: July 30, 2015

(July 28, 2015)

By Ronald Zajac, Recorder and Times

A provincial funding freeze is leading Brockville General Hospital to cut front-line staffing and endanger patient health, a small group of health care union advocates said Tuesday.

The Ontario Health Coalition launched a petition urging the provincial government to stop the recently announced cuts at BGH and improve hospital funding.

“There’s no question that the quality of care is going to be greatly affected by these cuts,” Curtis Coates, representing the coalition, told a sparsely attended media event in front of Brockville city hall.

“As well, these cuts are putting patients and front-line health care staff at great risk,” added Coates, the Canadian Union of Public Employees steward at BGH.

Hospital management says it will monitor the implementation of the cost reduction measures carefully and could even reverse some of them if that is deemed necessary.

The petition, which had already garnered some 50 signatures as of midday Tuesday, says BGH faces “major direct care cuts” to areas such as the intensive care unit, operating room, complex care, palliative care, emergency, the stress test clinic, day surgery, diagnostic imaging, medical/surgical, and the switchboard.

It adds the provincial government has “cut hospital funding in real dollar terms for the last eight years.”

The petition calls on the legislature to stop the planned cuts and to “improve overall hospital funding in Ontario with a plan to increase funding at least to the average of other provinces.”

Local supporters plan to hold a rally in downtown Brockville in coming weeks to circulate the petition on a Saturday morning at the Brockville Farmers’ Market, said Mary Jane Froats, the Ontario Nurses’ Association’s (ONA) bargaining unit president at BGH.

Mary Jane Froats, left, bargaining unit president for Brockville General Hospital (BGH), and Ontario Nurses’ Association eastern vice-president Anne Clark speak to the media at a protest over hospital cuts on Tuesday. (DARCY CHEEK/The Recorder and Times)

Hospital management earlier this month announced its latest cost-cutting measures: A reduction of more than 26 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, including 9.1 FTE registered nurses, 7.9 FTE registered practical nurses, 6.4 FTE personal support workers and 3.2 FTE support service jobs.

Anne Clark, ONA’s regional vice-president for Eastern Ontario, said the cuts will hurt patient care by creating “severe understaffing.”

“In my professional nursing opinion, hospitals should never cut at the bedside, should never cut jobs that provide direct care to patients,” said Clark.

She added the cuts in nursing will result in more than 16,000 person-hours of nursing care gone from BGH, a workload that will be shifted onto remaining nurses.

“We are seeing health-care decisions being driven by dollars and not our patients’ needs,” added Clark.

Louis Rodrigues, first vice-president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, cited tragic stories from patients’ families left on a patient care hotline created by CUPE.

“We will not sit by while our acute care hospital system is slowly dismantled and privatized,” said Rodrigues.

Another speaker, Council of Canadians member Jim Riesberry, placed the ultimate blame for the current “austerity” in the hospital system at the feet of the federal government, blaming both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Liberal predecessor, Paul Martin, for starving provinces of health care cash.

BGH vice-president and chief nursing officer Cathy Cassidy-Gifford rejected one claim made by Rodrigues, who said successive cuts at BGH had led to bed closures.

She said the reductions being implemented between now and the end of the year are based on consultations with similar-sized Ontario hospitals in a “benchmark” group.

There is also a steering committee in place meant to monitor patient care once those cuts are implemented, said Cassidy-Gifford.

“If you see there needs to be changes, there will be revisions based on the situation, ensuring that our patients are first and that our staff are able to work in a safe condition as well,” she said.

Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark, who was away at the Progressive Conservative summer caucus meeting, said in a Twitter message he will gladly present the petition to the legislature.

Clark last week sent a letter to Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, saying the minister’s failure to act by reviewing hospital funding has led to the most recent BGH cuts.

In a statement emailed to The Recorder and Times, a spokesperson for the health minister referred staffing questions to BGH management.

“Our government’s investments have helped to ensure that there is a stable nursing workforce now and for the future. More than 24,000 more nurses are working in Ontario since our government took office, including more than 3,500 new nurses added in 2013,” the statement read.

Between 2005 and 2012, the province has added 657 nurses in the region covered by the South East Local Health Integration Network, it added.