Overcrowded Ontario hospitals face 'imminent capacity crisis': Report
Occupancy at some Ontario hospitals has been as high as 140 per cent this year, according to the Ontario Hospital Association. OHA leaders are going to Queen’s Park to plead their case for more funding on Thursday.
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Overcrowding at Ontario hospitals has become so serious that the sector is “on the brink” of a “crisis,” warns its umbrella organization, using uncharacteristically alarming language.
Leaders from the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) plan to go to Queen’s Park to plead their case for more funding on Thursday. They are seeking a 4.55 per cent increase in operating funding for 2018-19, according to their prebudget submission, an advanced copy of which has been obtained by the Star.
That amounts to an extra $815 million and would bring the sector’s total operating allocation for the next fiscal year to about $18.8 billion.
“The sector is heaving under enormous pressure right now,” said OHA president Anthony Dale. “Hospitals really need significant investment next year to maintain access to existing levels of services.”
The organization’s submission to the province’s finance committee is titled “A Sector on the Brink: The Case for a Significant investment in Ontario’s Hospitals.” It states that patient occupancy at about half of the province’s 143 hospital corporations exceeded 100 per cent this past summer, normally a slower time of year for the sector. Occupancy at some hospitals was as high as 140 per cent while the international standard for safe occupancy is 85 per cent.
A section of the seven-page submission highlights the “warning signs of an imminent capacity crisis.” Among them: growing wait times, higher emergency department volumes, and infrastructure and equipment that is “run down, at the end of their life, or outdated.”
States the document: “Emergency departments, for example, are a critical barometer for how the health care system is functioning — and the warning alarm is sounding loudly.”
When wait times for the month of September are compared for the last seven years, they hit their highest level this year for patients admitted to hospitals through emergency departments. Ten per cent of patients waited about 32 hours before being moved to in-patient beds.
For most of the last decade, hospitals have willingly taken a back seat to other health care sectors, such as home and community health care, at budget time. For many of these years, hospital budgets were essentially flatlined.
But hospitals can no longer absorb growing costs by finding new efficiencies, the OHA says.
Dale acknowledges the language in this year’s submission is the strongest in a decade, underscoring the urgency of the funding squeeze.
“An increase of 4.55 per cent in hospital funding in 2018-19 will ensure that hospitals have the resources needed to avoid a significant capacity crisis in Ontario’s health care system,” it states.
In addition, the OHA is seeking $180 million in capital funding. The submission notes that hospitals are required by the province to make major upgrades to their pharmacies that will cost on average $1 million per hospital. Without the upgrades, smaller hospitals will have to stop providing chemotherapy treatments, forcing cancer patients to travel farther for their care, the submission warns.
A Star feature published earlier this year described how hospitals have become so full that they are housing patients in “unconventional spaces” such as lounges, staff classrooms and even storage rooms.
The provincial government has made a number of recent announcements aimed at taking pressure off hospitals, including:
- The opening of an extra 1,235 hospital beds over the flu season at a cost of $100 million.
- An investment of $40 million in home care to prevent people from being admitted to hospital in the first place and to care for those who have been discharged from hospital.
- The opening of 5,000 new long-term care beds over the next four years.
Dale said the announcements are welcome, but that hospitals will need bridging support until the long-term care and home-and-community care sectors are more fully built up.
Meantime, thousands of patients — most of them frail and elderly — are occupying hospital beds even though they no longer require hospital care. Their numbers have actually grown by 16 per cent over the last two years and now stand at almost 4,500.
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