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Ontario hospitals ask for nearly $1 billion to ease hallway health-care problem

Posted: January 20, 2020

(January 17, 2020)

By:  Rob Ferguson, Toronto Star

Anthony Dale

Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, seen here in April 11, 2017, says Ontario’s hospitals are the most efficient in Canada. – Bernard Weil / Toronto Star file photo

Hallway health care will worsen unless Premier Doug Ford’s government spends more money to ease overcrowding in hospitals and builds new nursing home beds faster, the Ontario Hospital Association warns in calling for a $922 million cash injection.

The lobby group told a legislative committee hearing in advance of the government’s spring budget that the number of hospital beds in Ontario has remained static at around 30,000 over the last two decades while the population has grown by 3 million people, with 1 million more seniors.

That growing and aging population has left Ontario with fewer acute-care beds per thousand people than any other province and tied with Mexico, said hospital association chief executive Anthony Dale.

“Ontario hospitals are the most efficient in the entire country,” he added in an interview after the presentation, noting the additional $922 million sought for 141 publicly-funded hospitals represents an increase of 4.85 per cent.

“You can’t expect to end hallway health care and keep asking hospitals to cut their expenditures and become more efficient given what the data shows. Our backs are against the wall here.”

Ford promised in the 2018 election to bring an end to the treatment of patients in hospital hallways, lounges and other spaces not originally intended for care, and to create another 15,000 nursing home beds by 2023 to ease growing wait lists.

The premier did not set a timeline for fixing the complicated hallway health care conundrum that is a result of nursing home bed shortages that keep thousands of patients in hospital waiting for rooms in long-term care, a shortage of community care options, and mental health and addictions treatment, among other snags.

Ford said Thursday that his government has already increased health-care spending by $1.9 billion, with several efforts underway to ease hospital overcrowding.

“I want to thank the front line doctors and nurses that have come up with great ideas to drive efficiencies that come up with technologies, better ways, faster ways of doing things,” he told reporters, acknowledging “we have a lot more to do.”

While the government has allocated about 8,000 of the 15,000 nursing home beds, Dale said he fears the process is not moving fast enough because it takes about three years of planning, permits and construction to get new beds in operation.

“We need to make sure that construction is on track,” he told MPPs from the governing Progressive Conservatives and opposition New Democrats on the standing committee on finance and economic affairs.

“We’re counting on those beds…the math for us is relentless.”

Just 21 new nursing home beds were opened last year, a period that saw the waiting list grow by more than 2,000. Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton, a medical doctor, has pledged the government is looking for ways to accelerate construction.

“Things are measurably worse now than they were a year-and-a-half ago,” Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition told the committee Friday.

There are now about 5,300 patients occupying acute-care beds in Ontario hospitals that do not need to be there for medical reasons, with many awaiting nursing home beds but facing a waiting list of more than 35,000 people for spots in long-term care.

When hospital wards are backlogged with such patients, it is harder to find room for emergency department patients being treated in hallways to be admitted to traditional hospital beds. About 1,000 to 1,200 patients are being treated in unconventional hospital spaces daily.

A report late last year from Ontario’s independent Financial Accountability Office sounded an alarm that the long-term care system will bulge with baby boomers over the next two decades, requiring an additional 55,000 new nursing home beds by 2034 to maintain the waiting list at current levels.

The Conservatives have pledged another 15,000 nursing home beds from 2023 to 2028, along with a plan to “redevelop” 15,000 existing beds, but critics note that doesn’t come close to meeting the accountability office’s prediction for demand.

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