Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario — Ontario’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs is in Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow for one of six pre-budget consultations across the province. Michael Hurley the president of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) presenting to the committee at 1:45 p.m. at the Delta Waterfront, has a direct message for the provincial government; “invest in hospital care before more patients in northern Ontario suffer.”
Hurley is not alone in calling for an end to the hospital funding and care cuts that have plagued Ontario for over four years of a provincial funding freeze for hospitals. A chorus of disparate voices from hospital administrators to front line nurses “are telling the provincial government in their own way, some more directly than others, that cuts to hospital funding have gone too far, patient care is suffering and real people are being hurt.”
The Sault hospital’s Ron Gagnon recently told media there has been no increase in base hospital funding for the last four years. He called this a dramatic change in funding, while the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) in a rare public comment, said that due to the provincial funding freeze hospitals are facing “extremely” challenging budget decisions.
“That kind of language is all a euphemism for more service cuts are coming,” says Hurley, who adds that in northern Ontario the decline in provincial hospital funding has meant “widespread cuts to hospital services, patient care and jobs.” These cuts include:
- 70 full-time staff at the Sault area hospital;
- dozens of hospital beds and 300 full-time staff at North Bay Regional Hospital in the last three years and another $14 million in service cuts are planned for this year and next;
- 18 hospital beds closed and 38 full-time positions eliminated at the Timmins hospital;
- 40 staff and several programs at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.
With a seniors population well above the provincial average, poorer health outcomes and higher rates of poverty and chronic diseases than the rest of Ontario, northern Ontario is “being dealt with particularly harshly by Sault area MPP David Orazietti’s Liberal government,” says Hurley. “What’s more they seem to be inured to patient suffering. It’s like they have a tin ear, particularly when it comes to the lack of health services in the province’s north east.”
Coinciding with the hospital care cuts is a large increase in hospital readmissions. Canadian Institute for Health Information indicates that across Ontario the number of all patients readmitted to hospital has increased since 2009-10 through 2013-14 from 8.3 per 100 patients to 9.1 per 100 patients. This is an increase of 9.6% over just four years.
“That’s an extra 9,000 patients being readmitted to hospitals each year. Ontario has gone from having below average readmissions to above average readmissions. Hospitals in north east Ontario (including Sault Ste. Marie) have higher readmissions still with a rate of 9.7% compared to the Ontario average of 8.9%,” says Hurley.
For further information:
President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE (OCHU)