Ontario Council of Hospital Unions says cuts are hurting Northern Ontario patients

LITTLE CURRENT—Representatives of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) stopped on Manitoulin last week as part of a media tour across Northern Ontario raising awareness of a recently completed report entitled ‘Pushing Out of Northern Ontario Hospitals, Abandoned at Home: After Twenty Years of Budget Cuts, Ontario’s Health System is Failing Patients.’

“We asked Ontario residents to call a hotline talking about sharing their’s or a loved one’s experiences or issues with the Ontario Health Care System,” OCHU Northern Ontario Vice President Sharon Richer told The Expositor. “We received a total of 600 calls and completed a report.”

“We are calling on the provincial government to fund hospitals adequately and provide funding for public and not-for-profit physical therapy, speech therapy, asking to reopen hospital beds and more alternative level of care beds.”

“The past 20 years has seen a cutback of 19,000 hospital beds, while Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury is under a five-year funding freeze and referral rates for therapy services have severely decreased,” explained OCHU President Michael Hurley.

The report states that Northern Ontario has been greatly affected by hospital cutbacks, which is being made worse by the challenges of Northern Ontario’s geography, as high levels of poverty and unemployment.

“We found that people in Northern Ontario have lower life expectancies then the rest of Ontario with chronic conditions and cancer more prevalent,” said Mr. Hurley.

He added that Northern Ontario is more harshly affected by hospital cutbacks than southern Ontario and that this is exacerbated by the challenges of geography and by poverty and underemployment.

“Citizens in Northern Ontario have lower life expectancies then the general Ontario population,” states the report. “Northern Ontario’s resources extraction and processing industries have suffered severely from globalization with a significant impact on employment levels and on the standards of living of many Northern communities.”

Mr. Hurley said that one would expect that these issues would lead to more funding for Northern Ontario, but he pointed out that the report shows this isn’t the case.

The report notes that New Liskeard announced in 2014 that the operating room would be closed for 50 percent of the time and that 18,000 hours of nursing time per year were to be cut, equaling 10 percent of the total hospital stuff.

Timmins plans to cut 26 of its remaining beds equaling a cut of 16 percent of its beds, as well as closing outpatient physiotherapy.

North Bay is also being forced to implement big changes such as the closing of the health rehabilitation unit meaning 56 staff will be cut.

Closer to home, Sault Ste. Marie is planning on cutting 50 hospital beds, 500 hours of nursing care per year and 34 personal support workers while Health Sciences North in Sudbury is implementing $5.1 million in cuts affecting inpatient psychiatry, day surgery, surgery, obstetrics, mental health services, oncology, critical care and emergency.

“A key finding of the report is that rather than delivering ‘the right care, in the right place, at the right time,’ the provincial government’s health reforms are failing Ontario patients on many levels,” continues the report. “Ultimately, many people are not getting the healthcare supports they need in hospital of at home, under this out patient community-based care model.”

Mr. Hurley said that the most affected are the elderly, who are often pushed out of hospital when they are still ill or in need of in-hospital care and therapies to help with swallowing and communication following a stroke.

The report also points out that over the last 20 years hospital funding has been reduced considerably while the money has not been transferred to home care and other community-based services.

“Between 2004 and 2009, funding per capita for home care declined 14 percent,” explains the report. “Today there are over 10,000 Ontarians on a waiting list for some type of health service support at home and another 25,000 waiting for a nursing home bed.”

“Ontario has fewer beds to population than any other Canadian province,” said Mr. Hurley. “On average the length of stay in hospital has dropped 25 percent resulting in one in six patients being readmitted to hospital within 30 days of being discharged.”

Mr. Hurley shared some of the tragic stories contained within the report, in addition to sharing with The Expositor his own personal experience with the Ontario health care system.

“My mother fell in her home and my sister, a registered nurse, advocated for her,” said  Mr. Hurley, “but we were at a large urban hospital and the staff spent all their time asking what we were going to do with her after she left the hospital and didn’t notice that she had a heart attack while in their care. They said that she was to old and that there was nothing they could do for her and she died in the hospital. When I think of the people that I am advocating for, I think of my mom.”

The report makes several recommendations to the Ontario government including reopening chronic and alternative level of care beds, stopping the closure of acute care beds, funding hospitals adequately, reinvesting in hospitals, putting funding into care not profit and providing those who need home care, therapies and services the care hours they need without fees.

“We really hope this report helps bring attention to this pressing issue,” concluded Mr. Hurley. “Things need to change.”

To view the report ‘Pushed Out of Northern Ontario Hospitals, Abandoned at Home’ visit www.ochu.on.ca.