Hospitals plan staff cuts – Ontario/ – Hospitals plan staff cuts
February 03, 2009.  Theresa Boyle, HEALTH REPORTER

Ontario hospitals are planning significant cuts to staff and services as they struggle to balance budgets.

“Clearly, we are talking large numbers,” says Tom Closson, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, referring to the number of jobs to be eliminated.

Layoffs will be inevitable, but Closson expects hospitals will absorb most of the staff reductions through early retirements and unfilled vacancies.

“No hospital wants to reduce its services or its staff, but what hospitals are doing is figuring out what’s the best way to balance the budget doing the minimal harm,” he said.

It is impossible to tell at this point how many positions will be affected, as hospitals are still working on their budgets, Closson explained.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, however, predicted in December 5,000 jobs will be eliminated in the coming fiscal year.

Closson said the number and type of positions cut will vary from institution to institution.

Nurses will be affected by the cuts, but because of a nurse shortage, most will be moved to other units within a hospital, Closson said.

But Doris Grinspun, head of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, warned patients will suffer.

“Patient care will suffer from the instability and the disruption and the fear and the chaos,” she said.

In cases where hospitals are cutting services, the focus is on programs that have been moving from hospitals into the community, Closson said, including outpatient physio therapy and lab work.

Some hospitals are reducing the number of beds and shortening the length of patient stays, he said. He couldn’t promise the cuts would not affect patient care.

The province has told hospitals to plan for a 2.1 per cent increase in their operating budgets for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which begins April 1. Hospitals require an additional 3.5 per cent in operating funds each year to continue to provide the same services year after year.

Dr. Robert Bell, president at University Health Network, has promised there will be no involuntary layoffs. UHN is instead banning overtime and trying to reduce staff sick time.

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