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City’s overcrowded hospital needs beds, money: Coalition; ‘It is time to rebuild our public health care’ it tells province

Posted: January 26, 2020

(January 24, 2020)

By: Sudbury Star

Amid a report that Health Sciences North is one of Ontario’s most overcrowded hospitals, a local health coalition is calling for more money and beds for the city’s primary health facility.

“We are repeatedly told that plans are underway,” Dorothy Klein wrote in a pre-budget submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, Ontario.

“We are given promises but no measurable improved health care results,” Klein, co-chair of the Sudbury Chapter Ontario Health Coalition, wrote in her submission to the standing committee. “This is not acceptable.

“The public needs to know that the provincial elected leaders have listened and have responded to the public’s concern about health care and health care funding in Greater Sudbury and in (northeastern) Ontario.”

Klein, a nurse, was critical of Health Sciences North and its CEO, Dominic Giroux, saying health care in the city and region has “deteriorated and continues to decline.”

The Sudbury coalition is calling on the province to provide more funding for hospitals, end so called hallway medicine, increase funding and care at Ontario’s longterm care homes and to properly plan for future health needs.

“The long trend of downsizing and rationing of Ontario’s vital health care services must end,” she wrote in her submission. “It is time to rebuild our public health care, to re-establish sound planning, to build capacity and to restore compassion.”

Meanwhile, a CBC News investigation showed Sudbury’s hospital was overcapacity on most days in the first half of 2019.

In its report, CBC said new data obtained through a freedom of information request show the widespread extent of the province’s “hallway medicine” problem and that hospital gridlock – a phenomenon that used to be restricted to surges in patients during flu season – is the “new normal.”

The analysis showed Health Sciences North was Ontario’s sixth most overcrowded hospital in Ontario for the first six months of 2019. SEE HEALTH CARE ON A4 From January to June of last year – a period of 181 days – Health Sciences North was over capacity on 168 of those days.

Only hospitals in Richmond Hill, Peterborough, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Newmarket fared worse.

Richmond Hill Hospital topped the list, experiencing overcrowding on 179 of 181 days. CBC News said it analyzed data for all 169 acute care hospital sites in Ontario during this six-month time frame. Its key findings include: ? 83 hospitals were beyond 100 per cent capacity for more than 30 days. ? 39 hospitals hit 120 per cent capacity or higher for at least one day. ? 40 hospitals averaged 100 per cent capacity or higher.

CBC reported that overcrowding has become so common in Ontario hospitals that patient beds are now placed in hallways and conference rooms not only at times of peak demand, but routinely day after day.

Also Thursday, Ontario’s hospitals said they are asking for a nearly $1-billion increase in the upcoming provincial budget for their sector, after years of underfunding, in order to maintain services and ease overcrowding.

The Progressive Conservative government has pledged to end so-called hallway health care, and doing so requires other health-care investments such as long-term care beds, the Ontario Hospital Association said in its recent pre-budget submission. The government has promised 15,000 new long-term care beds.

But those projects take time, and this is the level of funding needed to bridge the gap, said president and CEO Anthony Dale.

“We’re well aware of the magnitude of this investment, but it is necessary to address underlying inflationary pressures, increase service volumes and create capacity at the local level to ease hospital overcrowding,” Dale told the finance committee last week.

“Backs are truly against the wall.

Without this investment in Ontario’s next budget, you will see many hospitals facing some very difficult decisions. And this is a decision that no government and no hospital would ever want to face.”

The sector needs an investment of $922 million, which would be a 4.85 per cent increase, Dale said.

Hospitals will otherwise have to make difficult decisions about the levels of service they can provide and their staffing levels, he said in an interview.

“We’re really at that turning point, or that threshold if you will, and if we cross it, the hospitals of Ontario are telling me that many of them are facing some pretty difficult trade-off positions next year,” Dale said.

The Progressive Conservatives promised in the 2018 election to end hallway health care, but hospitals continue to face overcrowding. A government-commissioned report a year ago found that on any given day at least 1,000 people are being treated in hospital hallways.

Figures obtained by the NDP through Freedom of Information requests show several hospitals at over 100 per cent occupancy rate every month from July 2018 to June 2019, and with those rates generally climbing.

But a spokesman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said hallway health care is starting to decline.

“We are down six per cent or about 60 patients from where we were last year,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

“The Ministry of Health’s No. 1 priority is ending hallway health care…While we work toward a long-term strategy for modernizing the health-care system, ensuring the long-term sustainability of Ontario’s hospital system remains of vital importance to the ministry.”

She could not say if the OHA’s funding request would be met, as 2020-21 budgets are still being developed.

Before last year’s budget, the OHA said a 3.45 per cent increase was needed. The 2019 budget contained an investment of $384 million, which amounted to an increase of 2.05 per cent. The government announced an additional $68 million in its fall economic statement.

NDP health critic France Gelinas who sits as Nickel Belt’s MPP, said the sector has been underfunded for a long time, including from 2012 to 2016, when the previous Liberal government froze the base operating funding.

“Hospitals rose to the challenge, they implemented changes and efficiencies,” she said. “That was year one. Years two, three, four … were a disaster because they didn’t have (any more) efficiencies.”

Since that freeze was lifted the Liberals and now Tories have increased funding incrementally.

A recent report from the hospital association said that Ontario spends the lowest per capita on hospitals of all the provinces and those facilities are already the most efficient by various metrics. If Ontario were to fund hospitals at the average rate per capita of all the other provinces, it would cost an additional $4 billion, the report said.

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