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Unions council predicts province could cut more than 700 Ottawa hospital jobs

Posted: July 27, 2018

By: Joanne Laucius, Ottawa Citizen
Patients wait in the hallway at the overcrowded Queensway Carleton Hospital in 2016.
Patients wait in the hallway at the overcrowded Queensway Carleton Hospital in 2016. ERROL MCGIHON / OTTAWA SUN PHOTO BY ERROL MCGIHON

Between 748 and 1,634 Ottawa hospital jobs could be cut if Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government fulfils its campaign promises, according to projections by the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

According to calculations by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, which represents 35,000 provincial health care workers ranging from nurses to maintenance staff, Ottawa also faces losing between 84 and 184 permanent hospital beds, as well as 55 flu seasonal beds funded in the 2018 budget.

The calculations are based on numbers dropped by Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford during the election about achieving four percent savings through “efficiencies.” Ford also promised no jobs would be lost.

The lower end of the council’s projections is based on a four per cent cut. But the Tories have also promised they would balance the budget and implement tax cuts, which suggests a cut of 8.74 per cent to program spending, said council president Michael Hurley, who is delivering similar reports in 30 towns and cities across the province.

“There is no way to make those numbers without very, very significant cuts to health care.”

This newspaper reached out to the health ministry and the health minister’s office for comment but did not receive a response as of late Friday.

There is already a gap in overall health care funding between Ontario and the rest of Canada, said Hurley. Compared to other provinces, per capita hospital funding is more than 28 per cent higher in the rest of Canada than in Ontario, a difference of just over $400 a year per person. Ontario spends an average of $5,360 per person compared to a national average of $5,992, he said.

“Ontario already provides the least health care funding per person of any province. The evidence is already overwhelming that the cuts have already gone too far,” he said. “There is non-stop pressure to move patients out to make room for new patients. That’s why you have stretchers in the hallways.”

Ford’s explanations for how he plans to achieve his goals during the election were vague, and there has been no update about how the new provincial government plans to implement the savings.

The union is concerned about several possibilities for saving money — privatization, merging and closing hospitals and culling the workforce through attrition.

“Attrition happens very quickly. Nursing positions are left vacant. It is a real cut, a significant cut,” said Hurley. “For patients, it means that they ring their bell and no one comes. It means higher infection rates. It means enormous pressure on families to move seniors before they are ready, and there’s a good chance they will be re-admitted to hospital. And it means more people on stretchers.”

Many hospitals are already running at full capacity and making more cuts will make the “hallway medicine” Ford decried during his campaign worse, said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, which represents 400 organizations ranging from patient groups to unions and professional organizations.

Mehra believes the council’s projections on cuts to jobs and hospital beds are a conservative estimate. “The question is how you can make massive cuts, and on the other hand offer no clarity for how it will be paid for.”

The Ontario Hospital Association is working with the new government to identify and support hospitals that continue to face serious financial challenges, said president and CEO Anthony Dale in a statement.

“The government has clearly committed to taking steps to end hallway medicine in Ontario, and we expect that it will take the full attention of the government, its advisors, and the full collaboration of our health system partners to fundamentally address this challenge in the time ahead.”

Earlier this week, a report from the province’s financial accountability officer Peter Weltman suggested that achieving savings in the health care sector will be difficult because the labour market is so competitive these days.

“Given Ontario’s tight labour markets, public sector employers will likely need to continue offering higher wages to compete for available workers,” said Weltman’s report.

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