Briefs: TSH looking for $6.8 million in savings, Arnprior petition and more

The Rouge Valley Health System and The Scarborough Hospital officially filed notification to the Local Health Integration Network of their intent to merge, but it doesn’t mean hard times are over. Robert Biron, CEO of The Scarborough Hospital, sent a memo to staff Tuesday that reminded everyone that the health service provider still has a budget to balance. Biron estimates cost pressures of $8.4 million for 2014-15. The hospital has projected revenue increases of $1.6 million, but it still leaves them $6.8 million short. That shortfall represents about two per cent of TSH’s annual budget. Biron says it is the intention of the hospital to “minimize the impact” to services and staff positions where possible, however the memo gives notice that voluntary exit and early retirement packages will be offered soon. No specific cuts were identified in the memo. The TSH board will receive the budget plan on March 4th. Despite the formal notification to the LHIN, the hospitals will not make a final decision to merge for another 60 to 90 days.

In December we reported on a local fight-back campaign by the unionized staff (CUPE, OPSEU and ONA) at the Arnprior and District Memorial Hospital. The professional and support staff at the hospital are upset by the loss of six acute care beds at a time when the region’s population is rapidly expanding. Now our colleagues at CUPE have posted an on-line Avaaz petition for community members to sign that calls on the hospital to reopen the beds and staff them properly. If you’d like to add your name to the Avaaz petition, click here.

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has raised an interesting point around the province’s plan to shift endoscopies from hospitals to private Independent Health Facilities (IHFs). The College notes that IHFs are presently exempt from the Out of Hospital Premises Inspection Program (OHPIP) it conducts. Up until now endoscopy clinics have been considered community speciality clinics, not IHFs. In the most recent issue of the College’s Dialogue Newsletter, they state “the OHPIP model functions more efficiently and quickly to protect patients than the IHF model.” Despite the shift in status, the College is proposing to continue doing OHPIP inspections at these facilities. In 2011 the College warned that a private Ottawa endoscopy clinic failed to properly sterilize equipment and placed patients at risk of HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. The College also found that the clinic’s nurse was preoccupied with advancing the scope and not recording vital signs, that potential exposure to toxic fumes took place, single-use items were being re-used, and that cramped and cluttered premises posed a hazard by making it difficult to transfer a patient in the event of an emergency. Endoscopies and cataract surgery are at the top of the province’s list for divestment from community hospitals.

The more Ontarians understand the threat by PC leader Tim Hudak to end the Rand Formula, the less they like the Tories. While Forum Research president Dr. Lorne Bozinoff told the Toronto Star the anti-union policies are not seen as a massive wedge issue, “there’s some uneasiness that they’ve (PCs) just gone too far to the right.” The Forum Research Poll shows the Tories dropping in public opinion in tandem with declining disapproval of the Rand Formula. Those opposed to the Rand Formula dropped from 45 per cent to 38 per cent from November to January. Likely Ontarians are coming to understand that by undermining the province’s trade unions all labour rights are threatened – both union and non-union. The Forum Research polls still places the Tories in the lead at 36 per cent followed closely by the Liberals at 33 per cent and the NDP at 26 per cent. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne share 40 per cent personal approval ratings while Hudak continues to lag behind with 21 per cent. In a press release issued yesterday, Bozinoff said “it appears Tim Hudak’s signature idea, ending compulsory union dues, is not a winner in Ontario, even among supporters of his own party.” The random sampling of public opinion was conducted among 1222 Ontarians 18 years of age and older between January 24-25.

Health Providers Against Poverty have advocated to take the minimum wage up to $14 an hour as part of their prescription for better community health. While advocates are applauding the recommendation this week to finally index the minimum wage to the rate of the inflation, there is disappointment that a major one-time adjustment doesn’t appear to be in the works. The Toronto Star reports that the government will move the minimum wage from $10.25 to $11 an hour later this week. That means even with indexing, the minimum wage will be tied well below the rate of poverty for the foreseeable future. We noted last year that poverty is the second leading cause of death in Canada. After weeks of coverage, the Star editorial said the final recommendations read like “an exercise in timidity.” We agree.

We noticed some practical advice around the province’s “home first” policy in the latest edition of the ACE Newsletter. Jane Meadus, staff lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, notes that Ontario’s “home first” policy may not be for everyone. “Home First” assists seniors who have completed their acute care in hospital to go home with extra services they may not be normally entitled to as they wait for available long-term care. Meadus points out the program is not mandatory – “they can wait in hospital if they decide it is not safe to return to the community.” Neither is it necessary to go home first before starting an application for long-term care. Those who have been persuaded by a hospital to wait instead in a retirement home will be personally responsible for all costs in that facility, including nursing services. She also recommends that you get in writing whatever promises the CCAC make about providing additional home care services.

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