Funding cuts, not the flu, to blame for hospital beds crisis: OPSEU

“You can’t cut thousands of acute care beds out of hospitals over two decades and expect the health care system to function properly." — Sara Labelle, Chair of OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division

Oshawa (11 Jan. 2017)  — Lakeridge Health is facing such an extreme hospital bed shortage this holiday season that they have set up an emergency command centre to deal with the record patient volumes in the emergency department. 

Ontario has entered its 9th year of real-dollar hospital cuts

But according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), this should come as no surprise. For years, OPSEU/NUPGE has raised red flags about the impact of devastating cuts to hospital beds, services, and staff, as Ontario has now entered its ninth consecutive year of real-dollar hospital cuts.

“You can’t cut thousands of acute care beds out of hospitals over two decades and expect the health care system to function properly,” said Sara Labelle, Chair of OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division. “We’re not admitting people to hospital frivolously. Patients are admitted because of the severity of their conditions. Often they are in desperate need of care.”

When a hospital has patients waiting for beds every day, it's about more than the flu

Hospital officials have linked the recent surge in people seeking admittance, and subsequent lack of beds, to flu season. Labelle argues that while the most vulnerable populations may require hospitalization, it does not fully explain the current crisis. The bed crisis at Lakeridge Health is a symptom of a much deeper problem: it’s the result of chronic and severe underfunding and ongoing cuts to the number of beds. 

At any given time, on an average day, there are approximately 12 to 25 people waiting in emergency for a bed at Lakeridge Health, according to Labelle. “That means that the hospital is regularly over capacity, like many hospitals across the province. Flu season is only exacerbating a much more deeply rooted problem that Ontario’s hospitals, including Lakeridge Health, face every day.”

Smaller hospitals have closed due to lack of funding, pushing patients to hospitals in larger centres

The bed crisis at Lakeridge is compounded by the fact that hospitals across the entire region in Port Perry, Bowmanville, and Northumberland County have been downsizing and cutting services and beds for years as a result of inadequate funding. This has put more demand and strain on the already overstretched, hospitals in larger centres.

“It’s shocking that the hospital has opened an emergency command centre because of a bed shortage at the same time they’re spending $18 million on an unnecessary hospital merger,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “That’s millions of dollars funnelled away from front-line patient care.”

“How many hospital beds could $18 million fund?” asked Thomas.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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