Our hospitals are bleeding

It sounded like a good thing. Last month’s Ontario Budget included a $160 million increase for hospital budgets for 2016. It was the first increase in five years.

Unfortunately, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what hospitals need.

The whole package only amounts to a one per cent increase. With general inflation typically running at two per cent and health care inflation at more than four per cent, that’s a cut. In other words, the 2016 budget slashes hospital funding for the ninth year in a row.

Those cuts put lives in danger.

At St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, there is a $26 million shortfall and 180 positions have been targeted for cuts. That will have a huge impact on the care that 1.8 million people rely on.

At Georgian Bay General Hospital in Midland, an operational review is calling for cuts to surgical and obstetric services. If the cuts go ahead, women would have to drive 40 minutes to Orillia or Barrie to give birth.

“The cuts to hospitals like St. Joe’s and Georgian Bay are happening province-wide, in every community,” says Sara Labelle, Chair of the Hospital Professionals Division of OPSEU. “The professionals who provide these services are trying to do more with fewer bodies.

“This is the systematic dismantling of hospitals and public medicare under the guise of ‘transformation,’” she said. “In healthcare, ‘transformation’ has become synonymous with cuts to services or privatization.”

Labelle said hospital cuts were hitting older Ontarians hardest.

“The ones who are paying the biggest price for the cuts are those that built medicare and paid taxes their whole lives.”

Rural and medium-sized hospitals are also struggling to survive because of funding changes. It used to be that hospitals in Ontario received a lump sum to cover their costs. That all changed when the Liberal government introduced a new funding model back in 2012. That’s when funding shifted from being provider-centered, which used to take inflation into account, to the so-called “patient-centered” approach that is in play today.

A patient-centered approach sounds like good thing. But when you break it down, it is anything but.

Here’s how the funding formula works now:

  • 30 per cent of a hospital’s budget is a lump sum payment;
  • 40 per cent of the budget is determined through a formula that takes into account the number of patients served and their health care needs;
  • The last 30 per cent is reserved for specific procedures such as hip and knee replacements, dialysis, and cataract surgeries.

The province funds those procedures at a set price (for example, $8,000 for a hip replacement) and for a number of patients determined by the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). If a hospital ends up performing fewer of those procedures, future funding could go down. This is bad – especially for hospitals in small and rural communities. When hospitals receive money based on how many patients they serve, smaller communities get short-changed. More cuts are inevitable.

Providing a funding increase that is less than inflation might make it look like the government is saving our hospitals. It isn’t. Premier Kathleen Wynne needs to do much, much more.

Band-Aid solutions won’t stop the hemorrhaging at our hospitals.

Stop the cuts!

OPSEU members and health care activists in Hamilton aren’t taking the cuts to St. Joe’s lying down. Join us for a town hall meeting to find out more – and help plan the fightback.

Date:     Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Time:    7: 00 p.m.
Place:    Hamilton City Hall, Council Chambers, 71 Main Street West, Hamilton

More details here.



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