Ontario Health Coalition Town Hall Meeting & Referendum.

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Members of the local chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), Sault Ste. Marie & Area Health Coalition,  took their message outdoors, joining in a provincial campaign to elevate the conversation around health care cuts to hospitals. Not every city where local chapters of OHC were rallying the troops would have experienced quite the weather front that moved in to the Sault, on Monday, April 25th, 2016. About two dozen brave souls took to the corner of Great Northern and Lukenda Drive, at the entrance to Sault Area Hospital.  Signs were raised (and blown away at times) in a bid to motivate people into thinking about ways they may have experienced cuts to health care funding, specifically to hospitals in Ontario.

The upcoming, May 5th Town Hall meeting, will be an opportunity for people to add their voice to the conversation.

“We are looking for increased funding to our hospitals.” said Margo Dale, Sault & Area Health Coalition Chair.  Referring to funding to hospitals at the provincial level, Margo Dale said, “We’re last in (hospital)  beds, we’re last in nursing care, we’re last in a number of different things.”

“Ontario has dropped to last place in Canada in hospital funding. We are now in the ninth year of real-dollar cuts to global hospital budgets. Patients are paying the price; They are being left on stretchers in hallways, surgeries are being cancelled and vital health services are being privatized or subject to user fees.”

‘Total health funding by the Ontario government is only going up by about $352 million this year — or about 0.7%. This falls well short of aging, inflation, utilization, and population growth cost pressures and deepens the trend in recent years to reduce health care and hospital funding in real terms.’ (The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI)

In a September, 2015 report, the Auditor General of Ontario stated that Ontario hospital funding is less than the renewal needs for existing hospitals.  “The assessments of hospital facilities identified $2.7 billion dollars of renewal needs, requiring annual funding of $392 million to bring assets to what is considered good condition.”

20160425_120058However, since 2014/15, the actual annual provincial funding amount has been $125 million. The Auditor General also noted: “Existing funding does not address significant pressures faced by ministries for new projects. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has received submissions for 37 major hospital projects totalling $11.9 billion dating back to 2005/06. These submissions were endorsed by Local Health Integration Networks as needed projects requiring funding. However, the Ministry did not put forward these projects for approval to Treasury Board as these initiatives could not be managed from within their existing budget allocation. Hospitals raided operating funds for capital projects.”

20160425_120108The Auditor also reports that in “the last five years, hospitals spent on average $45 million a year of operating funds on capital and other funding needs.”  (http://www.auditor.on.ca)

“Our stats show that there are service needs in all areas of hospitals.” said Dale.  “The RN’s (registered nurses) have indicated that they are working under staff shortages so critical that patients’ safety is at risk. The RN’s have called for an outside group to come in and audit  what is going on. Personal Support Workers are being moved to laundry and kitchen.  Dieticians and Pharmacy don’t have full time hours.”

“I think this is an important issue. I spend the winters in Florida now, and I see the system they have down there. Anything we can do to protect what we have, is why I am here today.” shared (Rev.) Larry Burton, retired United Church of Canada Minister.  “In a sense, our health care system defines us as Canadians.”

20160425_120531“We have passionate front-line workers at the SAH, Matthew’s Hospital (St. Joseph’s Island), and all across this province, but they’re not able to do what they need  to do. Funding cuts and lack of funded beds have created a crisis situation with our hospitals.”

“Ballot boxes will be available throughout the month of May, at various polling stations across the province, leading up to the May 28th Referendum.  Local volunteers will be collecting and tallying votes.  This Referendum is a province-wide vote, led by volunteers in communities across Ontario.” said Dale.

The referendum question is simple, and reads: ‘Ontario’s government must stop the cuts to our community hospitals and restore services, funding and staff to meet our communities’ needs for care.’  Answer: Yes or No.

“The ballot boxes will be set up at community centres, local businesses, and organizations around the area” said Dale.

“It is beyond time that the cuts to our community hospitals stop. We are calling for Ontarians to join a province-wide vote to make Ontario’s government listen to the concerns of our communities & restore our local hospital services.”

In a recently released report (April 13, 2016) titled ‘ Beyond Limits: Ontario’s Deepening Hospital Cuts Crisis’, Executive Director, Ontario Health Coalition,  Natalie Mehra said: “That people are sleeping on stretchers in hallways in every major city in Ontario, sometimes for days at a time, is a travesty. Small and rural hospitals are being eviscerated despite all evidence regarding community need. The fact that staffing and funding are being cut to unsafe levels without any reasonable benchmarks shows just how far beyond any limits Ontario’s hospital cuts have gone. This issue should be considered the serious crisis that it truly is, by our policy makers.”

The report includes an updated list, tracking hospital service and staffing cuts in every region of the province for the last four years. Among the key findings:

· Ontario’s government has cut hospitals’ global budgets in real-dollar terms for 8 years in a row. If the government does not change course, 2016 -17 will be the ninth consecutive year of hospital cuts – the longest period of hospital cuts in the history of Ontario’s public hospitals.

· Ontario now has the least amount of nursing care per average patient (including RN and RPN care).

· Ontario has the fewest hospital beds left of all provinces in Canada, and lags far below the other provinces.

· Ontario has the highest hospital readmission rates in Canada, and they are rising.

· By every reasonable measure, Ontario’s hospital funding levels are at or near the bottom of the country and far from the average of the other provinces.

· Cuts are resulting in a crisis of overcrowding; cancelled surgeries because there are no beds; too-early discharges; high re-admission rates; infections; violence; ambulance delays; understaffing; and compromised safety for patients and staff alike.

Margo Dale said “The goal of the Referendum is to get as many votes as possible in order to get the Wynne government to listen to regular Ontarians who need to see increased Provincial Government funding. We want our hospitals to have enough workers who deal directly with patients and sufficient services to allow hospitals to provide quality health care to meet community needs. We need to be at least average in Canada. What we are looking for is increased, direct funding for hands- on care, to raise the standard of health care to quality care where people are treated with dignity and respect. When 22 people are lined up along an emergency corridor because there aren’t enough funded beds for them…where’s the dignity in that?”

The Town Hall meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 5, 2016, 7:00 pm. at the Royal Canadian Legion, (Branch 25), 96 Great Northern Road. The OHC Executive Director , Natalie Mehra, will be one of the guest speakers at the meeting.

For more information about the OHC Referendum visit: http://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca

excerpt from North East Local Health Integration Network 2014-2015 Annual Report.

‘Alternate Level of Care (ALC): Patients designated as ALC are those who remain in hospital after the acute portion of their care is completed, but their next destination is unavailable. Their hospital stay is thus prolonged waiting for an “alternate level of care.” Altogether, 95% of hospital patients do not accumulate ALC days, but 5% are delayed getting to their next level of care due to system challenges. Overall, the NE LHIN performed well with 22.5% of ALC patients, just above its 22% target in 2014/15. System challenges were particularly acute in Sault Ste. Marie, which had very high numbers of ALC patients awaiting discharge, particularly to Long Term Care beds.’