Sunday, April 21, 2024

Healthcare is Complex

Dear Editor,

Healthcare is complex. Adding to the confusion are the euphemisms, omissions, and outright lies spoken by Premier Ford and Minister of Health Sylvia Jones. Today I would like to address some lies, staffing, hospital funding and small and rural hospitals.

We were lied to in the lead-in to the 2022 election. The Minister of Health let out that they were going to expand independent health facilities (code for private hospitals). During the election campaign the Premier sent spokespeople out who said they were not. Two months after the election Premier Ford announced his plans to take 50% of “easy surgeries”, (cataract, hip and knee) and assessments out of public hospitals. This 50% represents virtually all of small and rural hospital surgeries! These, “easier” (only for people with no complex medical needs) surgeries take the funding and light, fast, profitable services from our public hospitals so they are left to contend with the longer, more expensive, risky patients. Because private hospitals narrowly specialize, if there is a complication during surgery, they do not have staff to deal with unexpected incidents and send the patient, at significant patient risk and expense, via ambulance, to the public system to fix. In my opinion no surgery is easy. Would your vote have been different if you had known the truth? Can you trust this government again?

The Ford Government has zero effective staffing plan to replace massive retirements of health care workers. For every 10 new nurse hires 6 are leaving, but radiologists, respirologists, lab technicians, PSWs, etc. are also in short supply. Hospitals are forced to hire agency nurses at 2-3X the cost of a staff worker. How much does the nurse get and how much is profit going to the agency? Doug Ford must limit/do away with agency fees, stop disrespecting workers and improve work conditions by implementing safe minimum staffing ratios like B.C. did. Instead he is continuing to appeal wage restraint Bill 124 that was ruled unconstitutional. Workers are entitled to retroactive pay from the hospital but the government has not transferred all the necessary funds to cover the payments. Most hospitals have no reserve funds and had to take out expensive bank loans. Some are close to bankruptcy.

This financial crisis has affected small rural hospitals the most. According to the Dec. 5, 2023, Ontario Health Coalition Report, “Unprecedented and Worsening: Ontario’s Local Hospital Closures 2023,” there were 868 temporary or permanent emergency department closures, 316 urgent care centre closures, two outpatient laboratory closures, eleven obstetrics unit closures, one ICU closure and one labour and delivery unit closure. The ER in Chesley has been closed evenings, overnight and weekends since Dec. 5, 2022. Clinton ER has been closed from 6pm-8 am since Dec. 2019. A few other ER closures in 2023: Town of Durham 51; Seaforth 17; Walkerton 20; Wingham 31. Horribly long wait times in an ER are bad enough but it is scary to arrive only to find a closed sign on the door and perhaps the next nearest ER as well. We need our rural hospital ERs to stabilize patients so they are safe if a transfer to larger centres is necessary. Roads are often closed or treacherous in winter making a long drive dangerous. Minden hospital was permanently closed a year ago. Which small rural hospital will experience temporary or permanent service closures next or complete shut down?

The stark reality is Ontario funds hospitals at the lowest rate of any province and has downsized hospitals more radically than any other province so we have the fewest hospital beds in Canada and the fewest nurses. According to a recent T.O. Star investigation, the lack of beds is the main reason emergency departments are over whelmed. Considering inflation, there are significant real-dollar cuts to public hospitals and in 2019 public health was cut 29%. At the same time the province has tripled spending on private clinics. On Feb. 9 the Prime Minister announced a deal that gives Ontario $3.1B. Only time will tell if this money goes to the public system. Last week the Premier said that everything is still on the table re privatization. The province is still hoarding billions that should be used to increase nurse retention, open ORs, fix primary care, home care and long-term care as well as create sustainable recruitment. If our hospitals were funded at just the average of other provinces many issues could be successfully addressed.

Please send comments or questions to; greybrucehc@gmail.com

Sincerely,

Norah Beatty, Co-chair Grey Bruce Health Coalition

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