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Orillia hospital cuts worry residents

Posted: May 5, 2016

(May 5, 2016)

Author: Frank Matys, Orillia Today

As residents voice concern over budget-driven cuts at Orillia’s hospital, more details are emerging regarding other measures that are expected to bring savings to the bottom line.

These include fewer hours at the hospital’s cafeteria and a reduction in operating days at the cancer clinic.

The details were made public during a packed meeting where local residents joined a growing chorus of communities calling for increased hospital funding and an end to the resulting job losses and bed closures.

“The closures that you are seeing here in Orillia, the closures you are seeing in Pentang, and in Midland and all around us, those are mirrored all across the province,” said Michael Hurley president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. “Hundreds of beds are closing every month in this province – that’s the reality.”

Hospital volunteer Paul Gillett was among more than 100 people in attendance at the standing room-only meeting, held at the Best Western Mariposa Inn and Conference Centre.

He offered a first-hand account of the stresses placed on staff and patients impacted by bed reductions.

 “The emerg is overloaded and then there’s no beds,” said Gillett. “They say there’s no beds. There are beds but they are empty.”

The Ontario Health Coalition and the North Simcoe Muskoka and District Labour Council jointly hosted the town hall-style meeting, one of dozens that have taken place across Ontario over the past month-and-a-half.

“I’ve never seen a movement like we’re seeing now in Ontario to stop the cuts,” said Natalie Mehra, the health coalition’s executive director.

A nurse who spoke with Simcoe.com said staff was recently told that Soldiers’ had the highest rate of absenteeism due to sick time among hospital employees in Ontario.

“That’s what they told us this week,” she said.

Stress was at least partly to blame, the nurse added.

“So many people are working double shifts because there is a lack of staff, and it is burning them out,” she said.

The audience also heard that the hospital’s oncology clinic would operate four days a week starting in August, down from the current five days.

Hospital spokesperson Terry Dyni told Simcoe.com the reduction is the result of lower-than-anticipated patient volumes since the clinic became a satellite of the regional centre in Barrie.

“There is a corresponding savings as a result of moving from five days to four days, but the change was driven by the volume of patients seen in the clinic,” he said by email.

Audience members were encouraged to organize a local referendum on May 28 in tandem with communities across Ontario where hospitals are implementing cuts.

Voting stations would be set up in local stores and other locations, with residents invited to cast ballots.

“People could vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, either stop the cuts or don’t,” she said. “The ballots would be delivered to the premier.”

Dr. Dick Johnston, who remains on staff in a “perfunctory” role, supports the proposal.

“We’ve got to protect the publicly-funded health care system,” Johnston, 75, said. “If we don’t stand up and do referendums and come to meetings like this, we are going to lose the public system.”

Coun. Mason Ainsworth recommended municipalities act with “a united voice” in urging the province to increase hospital funding.

“We need to pull them together … and say this is unacceptable in our cities and in our towns,” Ainsworth said.

Dyni confirmed the hospital’s cafeteria would be operating on reduced hours, and closing on weekends starting July 1.

“We will be increasing food offerings in the kiosk – located in the main lobby – to help offset the reduced hours,” he said.

Dyni was unable to confirm whether Soldiers’ rate of absenteeism was the highest in Ontario.

“That said, we do have high volumes of sick time when compared to other Ontario hospitals,” he added. “One of our budget initiatives this year is to reduce the amount of sick time.”

The hospital is exploring “alternative work arrangements” as part of the plan to reduce costs associated with sick time.

“If staff has communicable illnesses, we want them to take care of themselves at home,” Dyni said.

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