The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) today called on the province to open at least 50 fully-funded and permanent hospital beds for Windsor Regional Hospital. The beds are needed to deal with the strain on the hospital system to stem the persistent bed capacity problem, recently highlighted by the influx of patients suffering from the flu.                                                                             

The Ontario government’s “fixation with a policy of few beds, few staff, very high bed occupancy and too low funding, is causing serious capacity problems at Windsor Regional Hospital and hospitals across Ontario,” says OCHU President Michael Hurley.

Data shows that Ontario has the fewest hospital beds of any province in Canada and the fewest staff for those beds. In less than two decades, Ontario has cut more than 18,000 hospital beds.  The result is that, like in Windsor, 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 50 fully-funded beds to the Windsor hospital immediately,” says Michael Hurley.

Windsor Regional Hospital has 543 beds total between its two campuses. Adding 50 permanent beds (about a ten per cent increase) would bring the hospital’s bed capacity to 593. A level high enough to deal with the recent patient surges the hospital has been challenged with.

Ontario spends among the least amount of money of any of the provinces on hospitals. Data shows hospitals in the other provinces are funded at 25 per cent more than Ontario hospitals.

“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 115 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.

“A risk assessment applied to the capacity of the Ontario hospital system would show seriously insufficient bed levels. This is not a blip. 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 Hurley.

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.

On Monday, February 6, hospital and long-term care staff from southwestern Ontario will join a large community rally calling for a five per cent provincial funding increase for hospitals in 2017, and a commitment of on-going stable funding.