Message to Ontario's health minister: "It's not OK" to cut 18,500 hospital beds

Graveyards full of dead patients the result of province's decade-long experiment with bed closures

TORONTO, Feb. 27, 2013 /CNW/ - Ontario's pioneering experiment to change health care delivery - that includes the closing of 18,500 beds - is not "ok" and not a health policy that's in the best interest of patient safety because there aren't enough services in the home and community care sector to provide the extensive medical support many patients need, says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).

Since the mid-90s 18,500 hospital beds have been cut in Ontario. Ontario's hospital bed occupancy rate stands at 97.9 per cent - the highest among industrialized countries.

"This government's fixation with cutting hospital beds and services is disproportionately affecting the elderly. Thousands of acutely ill seniors are pushed out hospital prematurely every year into a home and community care system where services simply don't exist. Surgeries are cancelled, emergency rooms overflow, community residents are prevented from accessing long term care, and precious ambulance resources are lost waiting to discharge patients to overflowing hospitals, sometimes leaving zero ambulances available to respond to 911 calls. It is disingenuous of the minister to suggest that there is enough care available in the community to adequately address the care needs of the thousands of patients she wants to push out of hospitals," says Hurley.

Hospital over capacity or overcrowding is linked to outbreaks of hospital-acquired infections and a variety of medical errors. In Ontario approximately 5,000 people die each year as a result of hospital associated infections. Between a third and a half of these deaths are preventable. Despite other efforts, hospital acquired infection rates have not declined in Ontario. In countries like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom where hospital bed occupancy is 65 and 85 per cent respectively the rate of hospital acquired infections is lower than in Ontario.

"We should be doing the same, lowering bed occupancy, not closing more beds. There are graveyards full of patients, who are dying preventable deaths in Ontario because of the shift in health policy to close beds," says Hurley.

Based on the health care platforms of the main Ontario political parties, all three parties endorsed decreased funding for acute care hospitals. Factoring in the increasing cost pressure from aging, population growth, and inflation, the province's nominal increase in health care funding is a long way off the actual increased costs, costs that Ontario's auditor pegs at 6-7 per cent per year.

"This means more bed and service cuts no matter who wins the next election," says Hurley. "Despite the rhetoric of the health minister these aren't simply bed cuts, they are cuts to patient care, care that is not being offset by a shift in services to the community or other institutions like non-profit nursing homes," says Hurley.

In the face the health minister's uncharacteristically candid declaration to media yesterday, that cutting hospital beds is "ok", hospital staff who are members of CUPE will now consider more aggressive public campaigns to reverse the cuts, Hurley says. In the late spring OCHU will be releasing the findings of hotline campaign done in conjunction with the Ontario Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists (OSLA) which focused on elderly and vulnerable patients being pushed out of hospital.

SOURCE: Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (CUPE)

For further information:

Michael Hurley, President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE  416-884-0770
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications 416-559-9300