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Ontario health minister says ending ‘hallway health care’ will take longer than Ford promised last week

Posted: July 25, 2019

By: Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park Bureau

Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, during a media event to celebrate a milestone in the construction of new facilities at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Jan. 30, 2019. Ford promised last week to end hallway medicine by this time next year but on Monday Elliott said it would take longer to fix the problem.

Health Minister Christine Elliott is walking back remarks made by Premier Doug Ford at the annual premiers’ conference last week, promising “hallway health care” would be a relic of the past by this time next year.

“I can’t put a specific time line on it,” Elliott said Monday as she faced questions about the comments by her boss that left critics skeptical. “The premier was really expressing that we’re trying to do it as quickly as possible.”

Overcrowding in the health-care system that leads to patients being treated in hallways involves everything from the need for more nursing home beds to improved mental health and addictions treatment in communities and better management of chronic diseases to help keep patients out of hospitals, added Elliott.

“We’re working on many fronts to try and reduce the number of people who receive care in hallways,” she told reporters at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where she announced an extra $1.4 million in funding for 72 patients to receive a new treatment for tremors.

“The premier understands, he knows very well, as well as I do, that this is going to take a long term.”

Ford made the hallway pledge last Thursday at the Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon, setting a deadline on the vow he made in the 2018 election campaign that vaulted his Progressive Conservatives to power for the first time in almost 15 years.

“When we got elected, there was people in hallways across our province waiting to see a doctor for five hours,” the premier told reporters at a news conference where he also pressed the federal government to increase health-care transfers to the provinces by 5.2 per cent, as the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne had asked.

“We are going to end hallway health care. As we stand right now we’re down to 1,000 patients in the hallways, but I can assure the people of Ontario, over the next year we won’t have anyone in the hallways there.”

Critics said Ford’s government will make hallway medicine worse by trimming the rate of increase in hospital funding, which amounts to a cut in real terms when inflation and an aging population are factored in.

“It’s just ridiculous. He’s making stuff up, pulling numbers out of the air,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “Christine Elliott’s not going to back up that commitment.”

The Ontario Health Coalition said Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is going in the opposite direction in terms of hospital beds.

“There’s no way to end hallway medicine with that,” said executive director Natalie Mehra.

Michael Hurley of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions said Ford’s pronouncement in Saskatoon was “stunning.”

“It sounds like wishful thinking, magical thinking. He said 1,000 people were on stretchers in hallways. You would think he would announce the creation of 1,000 new hospital beds to take them into hospitals in appropriate settings.”

The government has said it will add 15,000 new long-term care beds within five years and has announced a new dental-care program for seniors with low incomes. It is also trying to streamline the health-care system under one agency in a bid to make the patient experience smoother by better coordinating treatment.

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