Town Hall Meeting & Referendum. Ontario Health Coalition Urges Action on Hospital Funding Cuts.

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Folgo DellaVedova, Past President of the Sault & Area Health Coalition opened a Town Hall Meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 25 on May 5th, 2016.

“We are here to raise awareness and speak out about systematic hospital and health care concerns in our community.” said Della Vedova.  “To put pressure on the Ontario Government to stop serious financial cuts to hospital services.”

20160505_193937The Town Hall was an opportunity for local residents of Sault Ste. Marie & area to learn more about a month long Ontario Health Coalition Referendum Campaign, urging the province to stop the systemic and ongoing cuts to hospital funding.

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 OHC represents of over 400 member organizations, local health coalitions, including seniors groups, unions, health professionals and more.” said DellaVedova. “The mandate is to protect and improve the public health care system striving for universal health care, that is public, comprehensive, accessible, and portable.”

20160505_201230Margo Dale, current chair of The Sault & Area Health Coalition shared local stories and real situations from citizens in The Sault, where the Sault Area Hospital and a “System breakdown resulted in creating havoc in their lives and negatively impacted the care they received.”

“We are tired of the rhetoric from MPP David Orazietti who keeps using phrases like ‘Health Transformation’.” said Dale.

Dale listed a litany of stories emerging from people who have experienced funding cuts to SAH. Stories that involve infections, lack of infection control, dietary problems, nutritional requirements not addressed, lack of housekeeping staff, laboratory waiting times, staff shortages in all departments, lack of dignity for patients who are waiting along corridors in emergency; patients who are left to their own devices, sometimes without assistance for long periods of time.

“We know that staff are mentally drained, and morale is at an all time low at Sault Area Hospital. Staff are working under extreme conditions. We know that they are working under conditions that are very difficult. This Referendum is about funding cuts, not about the staff who are on the frontline, providing care, and are doing their absolute best. It’s the administration putting pressure on the entire system that is harming our hospital.”

20160505_193015Peter DeLuca, SSM Coalition member spoke about his own family experience, and the trauma that his family members went through recently at SAH. Calling on the assembled to rally and get proactive for change, DeLuca said, “We need to stir the ripples and make waves.”

Glenda Hubley, RN (registered nurse), with over 36 years experience,   has seen the adverse affects of systemic funding cuts to hospitals.  Hubley works at SAH and is the Bargaining Unit President/Local Coordinator for ONA, Local 46. “We know that our service is vital to the community. The SAH base operating funding has been frozen for the last four years. In this year, the Ontario Budget has provided a minimal increase; 1/3 of 1% is all that our hospital is getting. That’s 60 million spread over 150 hospitals. We’re not even meeting the inflation rates.” she said.

20160505_204918With respect to a story shared at the town hall meeting involving cataract surgery costing $200.00, paid by the patient to the surgeon, Hubley said, “Last year, the same procedure required $100.00. That’s a 100 % increase. We shouldn’t be paying anything in a public system.”

Hubley said, “Hospitals should never cut at the bedside. They should never cut direct care providers. When nursing hours are cut, it is going to have an impact on care. It is totally unacceptable. Especially in complex and medically unstable patients. Budgets are being determined on the backs of direct funding to nursing care.”

Hubley spoke about IAC’s (Independent Assessment Committee), and that, through ONA, there has been a third complaint brought against SAH.

“SAH is the first in our province to have three IAC’s. It’s unimaginable to have three. It speaks volumes about how the CEO and Nursing administration at SAH feel about patient care.”

‘An Independent Assessment Committee – or IAC – addresses the professional workload complaints of registered nurses. A hearing is called only when the nurses and management have attempted at length to settle workload issues internally. It is a rare, last-resort effort to determine whether nurses are being assigned more work than is consistent with the provision of proper patient care. However, in the case of Sault Area Hospital, this was the third such hearing to be requested by the RNs since 2012, making SAH the first hospital in the province to have had three IAC hearings to investigate patient care concerns.’

ONA is the union representing 60,000 registered nurses and allied health professionals across Ontario, as well as more than 14,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.

Hubley went on to say “In 2005, SAH ended 26 RN positions. This is on top of the 27 RN’s cut from the previous year. These 27 RN positions were cut and never replaced.  We have a full 30 bed wing that has been closed. It’ there, but it’s not being used. We don’t have enough funded beds.”

“More than 100,000 hours of nurses time have been lost over the last few years. Nurses are a dedicated group of professionals and want to provide critical care; we have extensive training and expertise. We are the sacrificial lambs in the organization. Any Hospital CEO that claims that RN cuts will not affect patient care is not being straightforward with you.” she said.

“Research has shown that cutting RN’s in hospitals increases the risk of complications by 7% including higher risk for infections, diseases and death.

‘Failure to Rescue’ is an increasing concern for Hubley.

“We only have one RN for 1,000 patients. The CEO’s are not fighting on your behalf, but we are. Ontario (hospitals) is already known as the second lowest for patient – RN ratio in all of Canada.” she said.  “We need your help, to help us get a clear message to the Ontario government to stop the funding cuts.”

In an April 6,2016 ONA media release, it was stated that a nurse expert panel was called in to review patient safety at Sault Area Hospital.  “Concerned that unsafe RN staffing levels have compromised patient safety, registered nurse (RN) members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) have called in an Independent Assessment Committee to examine the issue. ONA First Vice-President Vicki McKenna, RN notes that “registered nurses in this busy Medical Unit are concerned that they’re unable to meet their professional standards because base staffing isn’t sufficient to cover patient care needs or the fluctuations in the acuity and volume of patients here. It seems as though balancing the budget has taken precedence at the expense of the care patients receive.” April 6th, 2016 found here: (https://www.ona.org/news_details/SAH_IAC_20160406.html)

Sharon Richer, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE shared  firsthand knowledge of cuts to hospitals through her work at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ont. She reflected on the impact that funding shortages have had on smaller community hospitals, like Matthew’s Hospital on St. Josephs Island, New Liskeard, Timmins, and North Bay Regional Hospital (P3 Hospital).

20160505_191104Sarah  Labelle, OPSEU Regional Vice-President, Region 3, is a medical laboratory technologist with over 16 years experience in health care. Labelle said, “All of these cuts are a concerted  effort by this (provincial) government to privatize the health care services that everyone relies on.  You starve it; then you break it; then you buy it.”

“Our (Ontario) government has a pathological obsession to privatize health care; to privatize the thing that defines Canadians.”

Labelle spoke about long waiting times for laboratory tests, and by extension, a patient receiving those same tests within a privatized option.  “You’ll be so grateful to get services after waiting so long, however  you will end up purchasing them. Paying for services out of pocket is shameful, and it’s a violation of the Canada Health Care Act.”

A woman at the Town Hall shared a story with respect to a journey she has been on with her husband. After several days in I.C.U. and then to the step-down post surgical floor at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, he was discharged after about 17 days. The surgery was very complex and lasted approx. 7 hours. Shortly upon return to Sault, he had to go to SAH for blood work. He was in considerable pain, and was quite weak. They were directed to go to SAH for a specific time. However, they ended up waiting for over 2 hours, in a cramped and over-crowded room for a laboratory technician.

“I wish I had a dollar for every time our Minister of Health said that they (Ontario gov’t) are investing in community health care. The last time I checked, hospitals are part of the community.” said Labelle.

“There’s no end in sight.” shared OHC’s Executive Director Natalie Mehra. “Ontario’s overall funding for hospitals has been vying for last place in all of Canada.”  Quebec has that dubious distinction.

“Nine years in a row, Ontario has not kept up with inflation rates.”

“This voluntary Referendum is an opportunity to voice your concerns. Ballot boxes, driven through volunteers and local health coalitions will set up polling stations throughout Ontario communities.” said Mehra.

“This is the type of action that a government will ignore at their peril. It’s the kind of action that changes (gov’t) policy. We know that the vast majority of Ontario citizens share our concerns for hospital funding ”

May 28th will be the final day for voting in the Referendum. The OHC is hoping to garner over 200,000 votes. Once all of the votes have been tabulated, the Referendum ballots will be brought to the Ontario legislature on Tuesday, May 31st.

to review an IAC Report from June, 2012: https://www.ona.org