Tom Closson, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, is downplaying the possibility of a funding freeze despite clear instructions to his membership to plan for one.
Closson said he was “optimistic” that hospitals will see a two per cent funding increase despite a $24.7 billion provincial deficit. He may be the only one.
The OHA President was critical at the lack of a decision by government, which usually gives hospitals an indication of funding months ahead of time.
“The longer they wait, the more difficult it is going to be for hospitals to balance their budgets next year. And the more costly,” Closson told Canadian Press recently.
CP reports more than a third of Ontario hospitals couldn’t balance their budgets last year, running a $154 cumulative shortfall. Even a two per cent funding increase – the best case scenario – would result in further cuts.
Meanwhile, stories of looming hospital cuts continued over the holiday season.
Ottawa-area hospital are facing at least $51.6 million in cuts to balance their budgets, and several are contemplating closing beds and laying off staff according to a December 15 Ottawa Citizen story. “We have some ideas of what to do,” said Michel Bilodeau, Chief Executive officer for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “None of them is palatable in terms of service to the population.” University of Ottawa health economist Doug Angus said hospitals preparing for no increase in funding are being realistic. A two per cent increase would only make cuts “less severe,” according to the Citizen.
The Shelburne Hospital of Headwaters Health Care is facing a proposal that will close all 26 chronic care beds, leaving the facility with outpatient X-Ray Services and laundry operations according to the Orangeville Banner. “Nibbled to death by a duck, that’s the way I feel about Shelburne Hospital” a local Mayor told the HHCC President at a December 10 County Council meeting. The Mayor says services have been gradually stripped from the Shelburne Hospital for years.
York Central Hospital is cutting 18 beds despite its location in a high-growth region. The hospital is tackling a $12.5 million deficit. The bed cuts will impact as many as 22 jobs at the hospital. York Central faces an average of 3.8 per cent annual patient growth. The Central LHIN has suggested that in the face of a funding freeze, York may need to trim other services not funded directly by Queen’s Park. Dr. Larry Grossman, York Central Chief of Staff, summed up the impact for the media: “More people in the community, plus the rate of inflation and zero funding increase for 2010 … without change, it will be nearly impossible to cover population growth and a $12.5 million debt.”
Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe closed six beds in October and is looking to close another nine in the spring to deal with a $400,000 shortfall. Last winter the hospital came up with a plan to avoid running a deficit, but fell behind because it was unable to close nine alternate level of care beds. “Demand for those beds was too high,” CEO Bill Lewis told the Simcoe Reformer.
The new Peterborough Regional Health Centre is bracing for cuts as a Peer Review begins to tackle a combined two-year shortfall of $38 million. “To predict the outcome of the review before the team has even been announced is premature and a disservice to the process,” Central East LHIN Chair Foster Loucks told the Peterborough Examiner. To date, the PRHC has only received $35.1 million of an estimated $72 million for its post-construction operating/growth plan.
Do something about it
OPSEU continues to maintain a web site where users can quickly customize a letter to their MPP and cc it to the Premier, the health minister, and the two opposition health critics. You don’t have to know who your MPP is – just enter your postal code and follow the instructions.
To access the site, go to www.avoidingzero.ca