Coalition hopes to build support, stop cuts
‘What is it going to take to stop (hospital) cuts here?’
The Ontario Health Coalition wants Sudburians to come out Monday to support their neighbours and their hospital.
The coalition is hosting a town hall on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Steelworkers’ Hall, 66 Brady St., with the ultimate aim of stopping job cuts at Health Sciences North.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said Friday more than 100 full-time equivalent nurses, support staff and health care professionals, from across dozens of departments, are being cut at HSN.
“The capacity at the hospital has been dramatically downsized for decades now,” she said. “You are at a point in this community where you don’t have enough capacity as it exists to provide for the needs of the population. I was shocked to hear the scope of the cuts that are proposed.”
Mehra said there is precedence. Sudbury’s doctors, nurses and citizens have pushed back against the province before, with some success.
“We can do it again,” she said. “We have done it all across Ontario.” The cuts run deep at HSN. Michelle Beaudry, bargaining unit president for the ONA paramedical group, said her members have suffered 35 job losses “and we’ve lost numerous hours of parttime work.” The areas impacted include the imaging department (X-ray, MRI, CT and ultrasound), as well as the lab and the pharmacy.
“The nurses have lost more than 70 positions, which means you’re going to be short more than 127,000 hours every year, of nursing care,” Beaudry said. “How can we do this with those cuts?”
Those 70 positions represent about 5.6 per cent of the number of registered nurses at HSN.
Part of the problem, Beaudry said, is that hospital stays are lengthened — for example, because patients are waiting for tests or lab results — which exacerbates overcrowding problems and can lead to increased incidences of nosocomial infections.
“We’re very fearful because our hospital is always running at 110 per cent or higher (capacity), which means there’s less access to quality patient care because the staff can’t manage that number of people,” Beaudry said. “Our diagnostic and therapeutic services are now overwhelmed, which means you’re not getting quality care at our hospital.”
At 110 per cent capacity, Mehra said that means every bed is full. There are no spaces available.
“People are lined up on stretchers and in hallways and so forth, because the hospital is running full and over full at all times,” she said.
Dot Klein, head of the local chapter of the coalition, said there have also been massive cuts to mental health care services, as well as other cuts that will negatively impact children and families.
“So far, the health care cuts include $335 million in cuts from planned mental health funding, provincially,” she said. “Provincially, they’re also rolling back OHIP coverage with sick children, who will have to seek private coverage for their medications.”
Klein also said the safe injection site that was promised to Sudbury has been put on hold.
She said residents need to come together to tell Premier Doug Ford, loudly, that Sudburians will not stand for more cuts.
“As a community we must tell Premier Ford and the provincial government that this is not acceptable,” she said. “We must stand together and voice a strong, unified voice that we do not want our public services and health care cut. And we don’t want our public services and health care privatized — that’s where it’s going.”
Dave Shelefontiuk, president of CUPE Local 1623, said his members have been notified of more than 50 cuts, which will affect support staff, such as housekeepers, porters, registered practical nurses and personal support workers.
Despite the fact hospital administrators have said there will be no impact on patient care, Shelefontiuk said that is not true.
“There is impact on patient care,” he said. “Since March, our bargaining units, clerical and services combined, have (been cut) by 52 full-time equivalents. That’s more than 100,000 hours reduction this year, since March.”
When employees take time off or retire, they are not being replaced, Shelefontiuk said. That means an increased workload for remaining workers. For example, Shelefontiuk said porters routinely run two to three hours behind. PSWs are also responsible for the care of an increased number of people, which means patients are not fed or bathed in a timely manner.
“If it’s not the dirtiest, it’s likely one of the dirtiest hospitals in Ontario now,” he said. “Because of reductions to the housekeeping staff. We have surgeries being cancelled because of the issues with the linen.”
Shelefontiuk said the Ford government will “need to step up” and keep its promises.
Not all the cuts have been implemented, Mehra said. The bargaining units get several months notice, so the cuts will be rolling out over the next few months.
In addition to cuts, staff members are being shuffled around and moved from one position to another. That could also impinge on patient care, Beaudry said. For example, a social worker who has spent 20 years working with adults may be reassigned to the children’s ward. He or she will have the academic qualifications required for the job, but will undoubtedly lack the experience that comes from working in the field.
“If I have to leave the adult population to work in pediatrics, it’s not the same,” she said. Klein said Ontario has fewer nurses per capita than any other province and Mehra said the situation in Ontario is bleak, much more so than in other provinces or in other parts of the global north.
“No one has ever cut their hospitals this much — nowhere in this country and nowhere in the developed world,” she said. “There’s no jurisdiction that runs their hospitals this way. It’s not safe. Eighty per cent is the target in Europe; there’s a debate on whether it should be 80 or 85 per cent they should run hospitals at. If you run them higher than that, you get backlogs in the emergency department and ambulances can’t off-load. You need time to clean the rooms properly between patients. European governments have all brought down occupancy rates to try to bring down hospital-acquired infection rates and to protect people’s safety. In Ontario, we’re running at levels that are literally unheard of anywhere. It’s bizarre.”
Mehra said she was shocked to learn of another round of cuts at HSN, especially since the hospital has already seen job losses.
“What is it going to take to stop the cuts here? And how far do they actually intend to cut this hospital? You cannot operate the way it is right now,” Mehra said. “It’s just outrageous.”
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, makes a point at a press conference in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday November 9, 2018.