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Hamilton hospitals avoiding using controversial long-term care bill to free up beds

Posted: September 10, 2022

(September 9, 2022)

By: Joanna Frketich, Hamilton Spectator

Area hospitals have held off using new powers provided by Ontario’s Conservative government to help move seniors into long-term care without their consent despite being under what one CEO describes as “immense pressure.”

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), St. Joseph’s Healthcare and Burlington’s Joseph Brant Hospital haven’t yet used the controversial Bill 7, More Beds, Better Care Act, to force patients into a long-term care home they didn’t choose.

“There are a lot of details in Bill 7 that we need to understand and process,” St. Joseph’s said in a statement. “We are not making any decisions today that will affect a person’s care at St. Joe’s. We are reviewing the bill carefully to understand the implications for our patients and the health care system.”

HHS and Joseph Brant provided nearly identical statements saying they are waiting to receive further details from the province and will work with other organizations to ensure they follow a standardized approach to implement the legislation.

All area hospitals have been grappling with high numbers of patients who can’t be discharged because they’re waiting for other types of care in the community — such as long-term care, rehabilitation, complex continuing care, mental-health care and home care.

HHS alone has 247 patients stuck in its hospitals — known as alternate level of care (ALC) — and nearly one-quarter of them are waiting for long-term care. Joseph Brant has a further 17 ALC patients.

St. Joseph’s has 18 per cent of its beds taken up by ALC patients. That doesn’t include patients waiting for other types of care in a downtown hotel turned into a Satellite Health Facility. St. Joseph’s operates 60 beds at the former Crowne Plaza Hotel at 150 King St. E. while HHS was expanding to 120 beds.

A number of organizations have come out against using Bill 7 to solve the long-standing ALC problem, including the Ontario Health Coalition, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which have called for the Ontario Human Rights Commission to launch a formal inquiry.

“Bill 7 does nothing to address the root causes of our hospital crisis in Ontario,” Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association said in a statement on Aug. 26. “Even


more concerning, Bill 7 threatens patients’ basic rights to freedom of choice and could result in vulnerable seniors being moved far from family and supports they rely on.”

Surgery backlogs, staffing issues, wait times

The bottleneck comes at the same time the hospitals are dealing with massive backlogs from the pandemic. The wait list for surgery at HHS reached 7,449 as of June — 1,396 were kids and 6,053 were adults. St. Joseph’s needs to catch up on 6,400 surgical cases while Joseph Brant has 2,193 people waiting for surgery.

“We are working very closely with our surgeons to monitor deferred procedures to ensure timely access for patients requiring urgent and time-sensitive procedures,” stated Joseph Brant.

The hospitals are also struggling to cope with an unprecedented staffing crisis. St. Joseph’s alone has 238 jobs it can’t fill — 163 of them are nursing positions. Joseph Brant also has roughly 200 job vacancies. HHS did not provide a current number but as of May, there were 488 job openings with around 155 of them in nursing. Together, it adds up to a shortage of 926 staff at area hospitals.

“Our hospitals are still under immense pressure,” CEO Rob MacIsaac from HHS tweeted Thursday. “We are doing all we can but you can expect a long wait in our emergency departments.”

COVID’s seventh wave

Meanwhile, the hospitals are still dealing with COVID. Hamilton’s hospitals were caring for 79 COVID patients Thursday, and had 175 staff self isolating.

“Our health-care system continues to feel the impact of the pandemic,” Joseph Brant CEO Eric Vandewall said in a message to the community on Sept. 2. “While our staff and physicians keep working hard to meet the growing and complex health care needs of our community, we are under strain. The pressures Joseph Brant Hospital is experiencing are not unique to us; hospitals across Ontario are facing challenges with wait times, bed capacity, and a nationwide shortage of health care providers.”

Overall, COVID-19 transmission in Hamilton is moderate and stable, according to the city’s latest COVID update Thursday. However, Scarsin Forecasting predicts the seventh wave will greatly increase in the fall.

The city reported six more COVID deaths of seniors age 80 and over from Aug. 26 to Sept. 7, bringing Hamilton’s pandemic fatalities to 609.

Of the 32 active outbreaks in high-risk settings, one was at Hamilton General Hospital, one at the Satellite Health Facility, one at the Charlton Campus of St. Joseph’s and one at the West Fifth Campus.

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