Ontario must increase funding for hospitals
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario has kept hospital budgets on a tight rein since 1990 to the point the institutions, staff and patients are suffering. The province must increase funding in its upcoming budget.
April 17, 2017. By
A few months ago, Ontario NDP health critic France Gélinas realized just how overcrowded Ontario’s hospitals are. That’s when she saw someone sitting on a commode at Sudbury’s Health Sciences North as she was walking by in the hallway.
That patient is not alone in enduring such indignity. Overcrowding is so bad at Ontario hospitals that patients are being cared for in hallways, visitors’ lounges, sunrooms and storage rooms. The bed shortage, in fact, is reminiscent of the late 1990s when hospitals were actually turning patients away.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Wynne government. As the Star’s Theresa Boyle reports, although Ontario’s population has increased by 36 per cent since 1990 and the percentage of seniors who need more care is growing, the province has purposely shrunk its hospital system. In 1990 there were 33,403 acute-care hospital beds; today there are only 18,571.
The cuts have been so steep, in fact, that patient capacity at about half of Ontario’s 145 hospital corporations during the annual winter surge exceeded 100 per cent and reached as high as 130 per cent, according to the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA).
That’s dangerously high. Experts agree hospitals are most efficient at 85 per cent when they have room to manoeuvre for emergencies and surges. “There is no slack left in the system. Zero,” warns Hamilton Health Sciences president Rob MacIsaac.
The province should listen to the OHA and increase hospital funding before a crisis develops. The current shortage of funds is endangering patient care, increasing the risk of infections, and dangerously stressing out hospital staff. It’s also cutting into hospitals’ budgets for capital projects, equipment and research.
The OHA has asked the province to come to the rescue with $850 million more for hospitals in its budget next week. That seems sensible in light of the potential fallout if hospital funding is not increased.
Nor does the OHA’s request seem unreasonable when the funding of hospital beds in Ontario is compared to that in other comparable nations or even other provinces.
Ontario currently funds 2.3 beds per 1,000 people. That’s fewer than 31 other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Only Mexico, Chile and New Zealand have fewer. On the other end, Germany, for example, funds 8.2 beds per 1,000 people, and Japan funds 13.7.
Meanwhile, the average spending per capita on hospitals in Ontario is only $1,427, compared to $2,219 in Alberta. In fact, only Quebec spends less than Ontario.
It’s no wonder, then, that the province’s handing of the bed shortage crisis was slammed by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk. In a report last November she criticized the government for the length of time patients waited for beds. Nor was it the first time the province was warned about underfunding hospitals. In 2010 the province’s then-auditor general, Jim McCarter, painted a troubling picture of a hospital system operating well below the efficiency patients and taxpayers deserve.
For the last five years, as it has ground down its deficit, the province has provided minimal increases to hospital operating budgets. When inflation is factored in, budgets have actually fallen in real dollars.
Now that the province has announced it will balance its books next week, it’s past time some money was freed up to deal with the crisis at hospitals. Otherwise, it risks getting dangerously worse.