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Government to blame for Northumberland hospital cuts: union

Posted: September 30, 2015

(September 30, 2015)

By Karen Longwell, Northumberland News

Northumberland Quinte-West MPP Lou Rinaldi argues hospital funding has increased in the last decade

COBOURG — A review of Northumberland Hills Hospital doesn’t get to the heart of the operating budget shortfalls, according to union officials.

Hospitals across Ontario are cutting services in the face of a five-year funding freeze imposed by the provincial Liberal government, according to a recent press release from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE.

A review team from Hay Group is currently conducting an external operational review of the hospital. Northumberland Hills Hospital announced a $1-million shortfall in the first draft operating budget of 2014/15 and looked for ways to reduce costs. The operational review will examine the hospital’s financial management practices, clinical services and operations, clinical quality, integration opportunities and governance oversight.

“The announcement of a review of services at the Northumberland Hills Hospital misses the real problem — deep cuts to hospital budgets by the provincial Liberal government,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE. “This announcement comes on top of four years of budget cuts, which have reduced the Northumberland hospital budget by over 20 per cent in real terms.”

An Ontario’s Auditor General report quotes studies which estimated that hospitals need a 5.8 per cent increase in funding each year just to keep pace with the costs of drugs and medical technologies which are rising faster than the general rate of inflation.

The freeze has cut hospital budgets by more than 20 per cent in real terms, the union says, adding Ontario hospitals were already the most efficient hospitals in the country with the fewest beds and staff and the shortest lengths of stay going into the budget freeze. Ontario spends $350 less per capita than any other province in Canada, according to CUPE.

Northumberland Quinte-West MPP Lou Rinaldi argued that operating hospital funding has increased from $11 billion to $17 billion in the last 10 years in Ontario. The challenge is that hospitals have become the “catch-all” for people, he said. Seniors, for example, should be able to stay in their homes rather than having extended stays in hospitals. The government has sent $775 million through the Local Health Integration Networks to Community Care Access Centres. Community Care organizes personal support workers to visit patients in their own homes. Community Health Centres and Family Health teams will also help take the pressure off hospitals, he said.

The reality is half of the Ontario budget is spent on health care, said Mr. Rinaldi.

“There are some challenges,” he said.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE says Ontario’s Liberals dropped the corporate income tax rate to the lowest in North America, and economists estimate that the Province has lost nearly $20 billion in revenue. This drop in tax revenue triggered austerity in provincial expenditures including a five-year funding freeze for Ontario hospitals, which the union says are already the worst funded per capita in Canada.

“Ontario’s hospitals are the least expensive and most efficient in the country and they are starved of operating revenue. It’s time for the provincial government to reverse the deep cuts it has made in hospital budgets in Ontario,” said Peggy Smith, president of CUPE Local 2628. “We are asking the Ontario Healthcare Coalition to help us to respond in the community to the review, with a community meeting and a day of action.”

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