Patient access to hospital care and services will be greatly diminished if the Doug Ford Conservatives move forward with future real funding cuts to health care that, in 2023, will climb to $26.5 million for Sault Ste. Marie area hospitals.
Looking at detailed fiscal information from Ontario’s financial accountability office and the provincial Conservatives’ own budget numbers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and its hospital division, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), have (over the last year) released projections for the huge bed, staff and funding shortfalls ahead for Ontario’s hospitals.
The Conservatives’ April 2019 budget will cut hospital operating costs in real terms by 3 per cent per year on average. But the cuts will intensify. Sault area hospitals will see a projected funding cut of $15.9 million by 2021-2022 and $26.5 million by 2023-2024.
“There is nothing left to trim,” says Michael Hurley, president of OCHU/CUPE. “The Conservatives promised to end the problem of hallway medicine. But what we see is a pathway to increased overcrowding and an intensification of hallway medicine and it only gets worse as we move down the timeline. We are calling on the Conservatives, including Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano, to honour their commitment and to fund hospitals at least at their real operating costs.”
These future Conservative cuts will unfold just as Sault Ste. Marie’s senior population is also growing. Between 30 and 35 per cent of the region’s population will be over 65 years old in the next two decades.
CUPE released a report this July estimating that Sault hospitals will have to cut 9 beds and 74 staff over five years to meet the Conservatives’ budget plan. With demographic changes like aging factored in, the impact of those cuts will be like operating the hospitals today with 29 fewer beds and 242 fewer staff.
The Sault Ste. Marie hospital is consistently operating at full or overcapacity. In the United Kingdom, hospital occupancy rates over 85 per cent are considered unsafe because of the heightened risk of medical error and the risk of increased transmission of hospital-acquired infections,” said Hurley. “As importantly, there is no dignity for patients in hallways where there is no washroom and no ability to have a confidential discussion with a doctor or a nurse or a chaplain or a family member.”
Ontario has the lowest number of beds-to-population of any province and “there is a tidal wave of demographics underway – hospitals need an investment and additional capacity, not cuts,” said Hurley.