Liberals’ health-care funding of 102 local beds riles skeptical rival

By Jonathan Sher

 

After a summer of woe for Ontario patients waiting for days in ERs and hallways for a hospital bed, the Liberal government announced Monday it will spend enough cash to add 1,200 staffed beds, including 102 in and around London.

The funding, which also includes cash for another 800 staffed spaces outside of hospitals, comes after a summer of overcrowding the likes of which hospitals officials had never seen. London is a big beneficiary, getting 24 staffed beds for Victoria hospital’s psychiatric ward and five transitional beds for those whose mental health needs require an assist.

The cash, totaling $140 million, arrives before the flu season, when demand for hospital beds surges.

But while that may be good news for patients, an opposition health critic says Ontarians need to consider the context: After a decade of understaffing hospitals, the ruling Liberals are trying to connect on a Hail Mary to voters who will go to the polls by June to elect a new provincial government.

“I think Ontarians will see through this. They know better than to trust (Premier) Kathleen Wynne,” Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, the Progressive Conservative health critic, told The Free Press Monday.

The province did not say if the funding was a one-time injection or would be added to the yearly tab it pays to staff beds in and out of hospital. The Free Press requested to interview Hoskins but his spokesperson was unsure if he’d be available Monday to answer questions.

For years, Londoners have suffered with some of the longest wait times in Ontario, a burden borne especially by those with mental illness, some of whom wait a week or more in virtual concrete bunkers in the ER.

Monday’s announcement seeks to cut those waits by adding staffed beds to the London region:

  • 10 beds for University Hospital
  • 14 beds for Victoria Hospital
  • 24 beds for the psychiatric ward of Victoria Hospital.
  • 6 beds for St. Joseph’s Health Care, though the announcement didn’t clarify how those would be allocated among its main hospital and Parkwood.
  • 43 additional beds and spaces at locations in the London region the health ministry didn’t specify.
  • 5 transitional beds, presumably for patients with mental illness, since the Canadian Mental Health Association is among those involved with administering the beds.

The funding also includes 10 more staffed beds for Bluewater Health in Sarnia, 20 more beds for Windsor Regional Hospital and 114 transitional beds for that region.

“Our government is taking action to ensure people across Ontario have access to the care they need, when and where they need it. By investing in hospitals, community care and home care, we are reducing wait times and improving access to health care services across our health system’s entire continuum of care,” Health Minister Eric Hoskins wrote in a media release.

The funding was praised by the head of the Ontario Hospital Association, Anthony Dale, who wrote, “These investments will improve the health system’s ability to serve patients this coming winter, especially during flu season. Given the extraordinary pressures currently facing Ontario’s health care system, it is imperative that hospitals, home and community service providers and government work together and do everything possible to ensure that Ontarians have appropriate access to health services.”

Many major hospitals in the province, including Victoria and University in London, have routinely exceeded 100% capacity for years . Many developed countries prefer to keep hospitals at 85% capacity to they can manage surges in demand without compromising patients.

The funding is also targeted at patients as they transition from hospital to home:

  • 207 affordable housing units for seniors who need additional community supports.
  • 503 transitional care spaces outside hospital for patients who need acute care but aren’t able to be supported yet in the community.

To add transition beds, the province is re-opening shuttered hospitals, with 150 beds planned at Humber River Hospital’s former Finch site and 75 beds at University Health Network’s former Hillcrest site.