Are health services really shifting, or is the health minister being shifty?

OPSEU's Rick Janson joins OHC Director Natalie Mehra for the release of the coalition's "Austerity Index."

OPSEU’s Rick Janson joins OHC Director Natalie Mehra for the release of the coalition’s “Austerity Index.”

We can all relax now. All those hospital cuts we’ve witnessed recently – Health Minister Deb Matthews says they are not happening.

She says these services are instead being shifted. Evidently we are all fools for not realizing that the 22 beds cut at the Chatham Kent Health Alliance just represent a transfer of services to entities like the Erie-St.Clair Community Care Access Centre, which is itself cutting $8-$10 million after the LHIN refused to allow them to run a $5.2 million deficit.

Hamilton Health Sciences says $25 million in cuts are planned and expects 140 jobs will be impacted. Perhaps Ms. Matthews can tell us where these 140 jobs are re-emerging in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN? And while she’s at it, where did the LHIN reallocate the 69 beds the Niagara Health System cut in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012? We can’t seem to find them anywhere. Neither can the hospital, which had to cancel or postpone 758 surgeries due to “bed pressures.” Maybe those beds were needed after all.

Perhaps she can tell us where the after-hours clinic, pain clinic, audiology clinic and cardiac rehabilitation program closed by Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre shifted to? We can’t find them. Can she?

The Health Minister’s remarks follow a press conference yesterday by the Ontario Health Coalition at Queen’s Park.

The Coalition released its first “Austerity Index” December 5th to let Ontarians know just what is happening with their health services. The index will be an ongoing document as news of specific health care cuts emerge over the coming months.

Far from being exempt from the cuts, the index shows that health care is being directly and significantly impacted by restraint funding in this spring’s Ontario budget.

Base funding for Ontario hospitals has been set at zero this year. The OHC estimates that between inflation (1.6%), population growth (1.1%) and aging (1%) the freeze represents about a 3.7 per cent funding gap.

That is manifesting itself in a number of service cuts. We recently reported that within the last two years (2010-11) 50 per cent of hospitals have reduced or cut outpatient physiotherapy services. We’re witnessing even more this year, such as the 3.1 physiotherapy positions just cut at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital or the 24 combined therapist positions lost at the Ottawa Hospital. Those qualified to receive publicly funded physiotherapy may have to look hard to find an alternative – the province hasn’t designated a new community-based OHIP physiotherapy clinic in the entire province since 1964. What is shifting in this case, is health services from the public purse to patients — mostly seniors —  as the community alternative will likely mean significant out-of-pocket payment even for those who qualify for OHIP coverage.

Think the Champlain CCAC will be able to pick up the slack in Eastern Ontario? Not likely. The LHIN covered last year’s CCAC deficit under the proviso that it balance its budget this year, which includes a freeze on hiring and cuts to home visits for wound care and IV therapy. Last year the South East CCAC ended up $300,000 in deficit too.

Don’t look the North Simcoe Muskoka CCAC either – last year they cut spending on personal support services as part of their efforts to address an $8 million funding gap. When you calculate who is on the waiting lists, that gap is was more like $15.9 million.

Many more hospitals are only reporting a shortfall right now. We don’t know what additional services they will be forced to cut to balance their budgets.

Are services really just shifting, as Deb Matthews suggests? Or is it the Health Minister who is being shifty? The evidence speaks for itself.

One response to “Are health services really shifting, or is the health minister being shifty?

  1. Pingback: Les chiffres ne mentent pas : les coupures dans les hôpitaux ne sont pas compensées dans la communauté | DiaBlogue

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