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The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) is sounding the alarm about the Ontario PC government’s plan to underfund hospitals through the next ten years. A report, “Ontario Hospital Crisis: Overcapacity and Under Threat,” was released at a press conference on Monday. The report details the overall lack of proper funding that the Ontario PC government plans to implement for the next eight years.
“Ontario is an outlier in Canada. Canada is an outlier internationally, in terms of hospital capacity,” said Doug Allan, researcher at the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
A key metric that Allan explained in the conference is the cost pressure on healthcare, a combination of population growth, aging, and other pressures like inflation. The number usually floats between 5 and 6 per cent annually. “[Ontario’s] Financial Accountability Office came out recently with a lower estimate, the lowest I’ve ever seen...at 4.6 per cent,” said Allan. He explained that the PC budget plan will continue to increase the divergence between hospital costs and actual funding.
“In the first years, we’re going to fall $2.4 billion behind cost pressures. By the eighth year, we’re going to fall $18 billion behind cost pressures for healthcare,” said Allan. “The government’s gone exactly the wrong way, with a plan of 2 per cent funding increases into the next decade for healthcare, far, far below the cost pressures.”
Beginning in 2004-2005, early in the first term of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, Ontario’s per capita funding to hospitals began to decline in comparison to the rest of the country. Speakers at the press conference recalled that Doug Ford’s PCs were elected party on a promise to end “hallway medicine,” a hospital practice resulting from years of chronic underfunding. Hospital underfunding “accounts for 72.5% of health care underfunding” in the province according to the report.
Instead of reversing the trend, Ford’s PCs are committed in their new provincial budget to lowering per capita health expenditures even further in Ontario.
Hallway medicine is not the only effect of repeated underfunding. According to the report, Ontario has the lowest rate of hospitalization in Canada, 18.2 per cent lower than the rest of the country. Fewer people are admitted, and they are permitted to stay for shorter periods. The proportion of hospital beds for the population is dramatically lower than the rest of Canada, at just 2.2 beds per 1000 people.
Beyond this there is an overstretched workforce in Ontario. Compared to the rest of the country, Ontario has 21 per cent less staff across its hospital system. Just meeting the staffing levels of the rest of Canada would create 45,000 more hospital jobs, according to the report.
Union leaders within the hospital system were surveyed for the report. Of the 150 hospitals, over 130 responded that they did not believe the Ontario hospital system was prepared for the pandemic with beds, staff, and capacity. Over 120 of the 150 said staff are facing burnout, including 17 of 19 hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area.
OCHU President Michael Hurley closed the press conference by reminding attendees that Ontario’s hospitals were already in crisis before the pandemic. Now, healthcare professionals are discussing “triage tools” to decide who receives health care and who is turned away.
Hurley added that Ford calls healthcare workers “heroes” while committing them to “workloads which are going to be crippling as we go forward, and to the anxiety and despair of seeing people turned away for care, denied entry to a hospital, and taken out of hospital while still acutely ill.” Hurley closed by asking the government to increase funding to at least meet the levels of the rest of the country.
OCHU is a CUPE Ontario body comprised of 34,000 members who work in Ontario’s hospitals.