Why you should care about March 4

This winter has been the season of our discontent. One after another hospitals have been announcing cuts to staff, beds and needed programs.

On Monday communities are planning to do something about it with support from the Ontario Health Coalition (See activist’s calendar at right).

Hospital funding is flat in this province. In real terms that means about a three per cent cut in funding after taking into account inflation, population growth and the impact of aging. Worst still, the plan is to keep underfunding hospitals for at least another three or four years.

Hospitals in this province are the most crowded among developed nations. If Ontario were a nation, it would top the OECD for the most jammed hospitals, Israel following a close second, the rest of Canada third.

It’s one thing to run a hotel at capacity, another thing to run a hospital that way.

Many countries try to keep their average hospital occupancy rate below 85 per cent. This is to help them with surge capacity and to limit the spread of hospital borne infections.

At close to 98 per cent average occupancy, the only surge capacity most Ontario hospitals have is the hallway. When hospitals are jammed surgeries get cancelled because there is no bed for a patient to recover in. That’s costly waste to the health system. We only need to look at the headlines in the last few years to realized overcrowding means we are losing the war against C-Difficile, among other infections.

Health Minister Deb Matthews is not listening.

She is counting on you buying her story that these cuts are merely part of a reorganization of health care.

The theory goes that if you invest in community-based care, you’ll need less hospital care. Ontarians say they want to be cared for in their home. Fair enough.

The government has been relying upon that theory for more than a decade. We’ve lost nearly 20,000 hospital beds and seen nowhere near the investment in home care and long-term care needed to absorb that capacity, assuming services are equivalent. They are not. The government is much faster to cut than to replace.

Home care and community care are getting the biggest increase this year. It’s not much at 4 per cent, not when all the expectations of the world are being placed up on that sector. Most of that will be taken up with inflation and normal increases in demand due to aging and population growth. That leaves less than 1 per cent to absorb all the hospital cuts.

If you believe this is possible, we have a bridge in Brooklyn we’d like to sell you.

You could stay at home on Monday. You might have to work. But when you need a hospital bed for you or your family, it may not be there. Or it may be out in the hallway. If you are on a wait list for surgery, you could be waiting that much longer. If you work in a hospital, your job might not be there next year or the year after.

Please come out on Monday and show you care. A list of cross-province events is to the right in our activist’s calendar. Check with your local health coalition.

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