With hospital occupancy at between 101 and 120 per cent for several months at Kingston General Hospital (KGH), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1974 and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions of CUPE called on the province today to open at least 45 fully-funded and staffed beds at the hospital. The beds are needed to alleviate the consistent strain from insufficient beds at KGH.
“Too many patients and a critical shortage of hospital beds at KGH happen routinely. These prolonged periods of hospital overcrowding do not just happen because of the influx of patients with the flu. Overcrowding at Ontario hospitals including at KGH, is chronic and system-wide,” says OCHU president Michael Hurley. He points to the Ontario Liberal government’s “fixation with a policy of cutting hospital beds, cutting hospital staff, while maintaining a very high bed occupancy. All of which is causing serious capacity problems at KGH.”
Recently at KGH, patients from the emergency room overflowed into the outpatient procedures clinic, causing some procedures to be cancelled. Post-recovery patients have also been affected. Dozens of emergency room patients are routinely waiting for an in-patient bed each day at the hospital.
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. Data shows that Ontario has the fewest hospital beds of any province in Canada and the fewest staff for those beds. The result is that, like in Kingston, 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.
“Overcrowding is now a constant at our hospital. But it should not be accepted as the new normal. Hospital staff from nurses to cleaners are committed to quality patient care. They are working at an exhausting pace, because they have too many patients to care for and too many rooms keep infection-free,” says Mike Rodrigues, president of CUPE 1974 representing nearly 1400 KGH staff.
KGH has 447 beds. Adding 45 permanent beds (about a 10 per cent increase) would bring the hospital’s bed capacity to 492. A level high enough to deal with the recent patient surges the hospital has been challenged with.
“A risk assessment applied to the capacity of the Ontario hospital system would show seriously insufficient bed levels. Continuing to run our hospitals 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 puts patients’ safety at risk. We urge the health minister to act and restore 45 fully-funded beds to KGH immediately,” says Hurley.
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.
“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 hospital doesn’t have enough beds to admit those people in our community who require in-hospital care,” says Rodrigues.
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.