Residents urged to join campaign against hospital cuts
Hamilton residents are being urged to join a public campaign against hospital funding cuts before their loved ones are kicked out of hospital too soon, have to wait days in the ER to get a bed, face critical delays in surgeries and treatments, or can’t get an ambulance because they are all tied up.
The local hospital system is already in crisis according to the Ontario Health Coalition and two hospital unions, and will only get worse without adequate funding.
The Coalition, The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Canadian Union of Public Employees are hosting a meeting in September to mount a campaign that includes rallies and days of action at the Ontario Legislature.
“We can’t stand by,” said Coalition executive-director Natalie Mehra at a news conference Tuesday. “The hospitals continue to operate at a dangerous capacity and are divorced from the population’s need for care. We have no choice but to get organized to push the government to stop the cuts.”
The Coalition and unions warn the newest cuts amount to $27 million to Hamilton’s hospitals if not stopped — $20 million to HHS and $7 million to St. Joseph’s Healthcare.
“$27 million is a whopping cut,” said Mehra. “It means a great deal in terms of service cuts.”
Worse is the tally of cuts in the past five years alone — amounting to $115 million to Hamilton Health Sciences and $70.5 million to St. Joe’s, she added. “It totals more than $185 million, the entire budget of a medium-sized hospital — which means we’re essentially cutting one hospital.”
There have been cuts of almost $300 million in the past 10 years and Ontario’s hospitals are the lowest funded in Canada, she said.
Hamilton’s hospitals are running at extremely dangerous levels, with 110 per cent occupancy and “have passed the tipping point.”
Hamilton Health Coalition cochair Rolf Gerstenberger said he was “quite outraged” when the province announced the cuts and then said it won’t affect patient care. “My first reaction was they must take us for idiots.”
Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins responded in an email that the government “remains committed” to transforming the system and ensuring patients receive high quality services. This year’s budget gives HHS $17 million and St. Joe’s $9 million more than last year, he added.
Dave Murphy, president of CUPE Local 7800 representing 4,000 HHS staff, said HHS has been cutting jobs since 2009, so the coming shortfall “tells me they will now cut clinical services.”
Murphy warned the current overcrowding means patients are more susceptible to hospital borne diseases, are kicked out too early and need to be readmitted, and there is more risk of medical errors.
Mehra doesn’t accept that too many beds are taken up by those waiting for long-term care. “The issue is patients are too complex for long-term care ... It’s inhumane to force people into places that can’t take care of them.”
She adds, “It’s not too late to stop the $27 million cut” since there is an election next year in Ontario. “We need to mobilize this fall to stop it.”
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health coalition, speaks at a Tuesday press conference on changes to hospitals and budget cuts.