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Hospital employee unions call for end of “hallway medicine”

Pam Parks, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 6364, and Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, were recently in Oshawa calling on the Ford government to keep its promise to end “hallway medicine” (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Hospital employee unions are worried the province’s healthcare facilities are not prepared for the future.

Pam Parks, president of CUPE 6364, and Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, are both calling for an increase in healthcare budgets to prepare for aging Baby Boomers, and overall population growth.

They are also asking the Ford government to deliver on their promise to end “hallway healthcare.”

“During the last provincial election, all four major political parties committed to   ending ‘hallway medicine,’” says Hurley.

He says patients are being treated on stretchers outside of emergency wards      without access to bathrooms, privacy, or the ability to have a confidential discussion about their medical condition.

Hurley notes people have even died in these environments, and others have had to stay in broom closets and other inadequate accommodations.

“As recently as July 12, 2019 [Premier Doug Ford] said his government would     eliminate hallway medicine within a 12-month period,” says Hurley. “It’s a great promise, but we’re very concerned because that’s not born out by the budget that was passed in the spring.”

To Parks, the commitment made by each party meant an increased investment in local hospitals.

Hurley explains Ontario has closed more than 20,000 acute care beds over the last 20 years.

“This leaves us with the lowest capacity in terms of beds to population, and staff to population, of any hospital system in Canada, or, in fact, of any country with a developed economy…,” he says.

This includes countries such as Turkey, Mexico, and the United States.

“One consequence of that is hospitals are operating at over 100 per cent capacity in Ontario.”

He further adds in other countries such as England, operating at more than 85 per cent capacity is considered to be unsafe and dangerous.

“The reason for that is because when you spread the attention of staff, including       physicians, across a larger and larger group of patients, the risk of medical error increases significantly,” he says.

The risk of hospital-acquired infections also increases because people are closer together, adds Hurley.

He says these problems exist in other parts of Ontario’s healthcare system as well, noting there are currently 34,000 people on waitlists for long-term care in the province.

“The previous government, and this government, would say that a big problem with the lack of capacity in hospitals is that so-called ‘alternative level of care’ patients – often elderly patients – are holding down beds while they wait for placement in long-term care,” he explains.

With the budget released by the province in March, there was an increase of one per cent for Lakeridge Health.

“We would say the problem with that is they need at least a four per cent increase,” says Hurley.

He also adds the auditor general said Lakeridge needed an increase of at least 5.2 per cent.

Typically, hospitals would need at least the cost of inflation, according to Hurley.

“They’ve got higher salaries for doctors…, they’ve got all the patients in this hospital system being provided with their drugs free when they’re inpatients, which is the way it should be, but those drugs are going up over 10 per cent per year,” he says.

He also points out hospital technology is expensive, and health economists would add about one per cent for aging, one per cent for population growth, and one per cent for the use of hospital services.

“The government would say they’re giving them an increase – which is true,” says Hurley. “The problem is, it’s about three per cent less than they actually need.”

By 2023-24, hospitals will be receiving $8 billion less than what they need in Ontario, says Hurley.

“For the hospitals here, it means a 15 per cent budget cut, and for long-term care, it means a 10 per cent budget cut,” he explains.

He also notes public health organizations and emergency medical services are being restructured.

The Baby Boomer generation is about to age out, according to Hurley, which means more seniors in need of medical services.

“The number of people aged 65 is going to double, the number of 75-plus triples, over 85 quadruples,” he explains. “These are the age groups that typically use hospitals the most because bodies wear out.”

Parks says the only way to end ‘hallway medicine’ is to make proper investments to meet the needs of an aging and growing population.

“These investments aren’t permanent, but they are required for the life of the Baby Boom and growing population,” says Parks.

Parks and Hurley urge the government to follow through with their pledge to end     hallway medicine.