With occupancy levels spiking recently to 138 per cent at Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) today called on the province to open at least 17 fully-funded and permanent beds at the hospital. The beds are needed to alleviate the consistent strain from insufficient beds at the hospital, recently highlighted by the influx of patients suffering from the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

Too many patients and a critical shortage of hospital beds at the Cornwall hospital, “is not a blip. Overcrowding is now a constant, but it should not be accepted as the new normal. There is absolutely no surge capacity in the system and hospital staff from nurses to cleaners are working at an exhausting pace, because they have too many patients to care for,” says OCHU president Michael Hurley.

The hospital confirmed earlier this winter that overcrowding has delayed the return of patients to CCH following care at tertiary services in Ottawa. This despite CCH adding an extra 50 beds.

“These extra beds are currently not funded by the province. Regrettably the hospital doing the right thing by admitting patients and adding beds will mean that due to serious provincial underfunding, CCH will be forced to make cuts to balance their budget. Something that will also have a detrimental impact on patient care. It is a cycle that must stop with the province funding on a permanent basis 17 beds at the Cornwall hospital,” says Hurley.

With occupancy well over 100 per cent for a sustained period of time, dozens of admitted patients are routinely waiting for an in-patient bed each day at CCH.  It’s the Liberal government’s fixation with a policy of few beds, few staff, very high bed occupancy and too low funding, that’s causing serious capacity problems at CCH and hospitals across Ontario, says Hurley.

Data shows that Ontario has the fewest hospital beds of any province in Canada and the fewest staff for those beds. Data shows hospitals in the other provinces are funded at 25 per cent more than Ontario hospitals. Over 18,000 beds have been closed in Ontario over the last few decades despite a growing and ageing population. The result is that, like in Cornwall, many Ontario hospitals are reeling from high bed occupancy rates and in many cases, are overcapacity for long periods of time with ad hoc patient beds being put in tub rooms, solariums and emergency department hallways.

“All this poses potential harm to patients who are entitled to timely and safe hospital care. Unfortunately, patients are being put at risk because our hospitals don’t have enough beds to admit those who require in-hospital care. We urge the health minister to act and restore 17 fully-funded beds to CCH immediately,” says Hurley.

CCH has about 170 in-patient beds. Adding 17 permanent beds would bring the hospital’s bed capacity to 187, a level high enough to deal with the recent patient surges the hospital has been challenged with.

“Continuing to run our hospital system with no spare bed capacity, indeed at most times, over 100 per cent full, is the opposite of the ‘first do no harm’ principle that our health system is based on. Experts say capacity over 85 per cent is dangerous. How can patient safety be assured when hospitals are too full, and at between 100 and 120 per cent capacity?” Hurley asks.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) maintains in their 2017 pre-budget submission to government that hospitals have made $4.5 billion in budget cuts on behalf of the province. The OHA says the average occupancy has grown to more than 92 per cent at Ontario’s hospitals. Studies show that bed occupancies upwards of 85 per cent are associated with greater risks for patients including higher risk of infection. Overcrowding also creates problems handling both emergency and elective admissions. At the Windsor hospital, which has dealt with overcrowding for a sustained period of time, surgeries have been cancelled.

Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office estimates health care needs about a 5.3 per cent annual increase to meet basic costs, driven higher than inflation by drugs and medical technologies.