With the next Ontario election just over a year away — on June 2, 2022 — one of Ontario's largest public service unions is getting ready to take on Ontario's Progressive Conservative government by arguing that Northern Ontario hospitals will be in dire straits and "steady decline" in eight to 10 years time, falling billions of dollars into debt.
The prediction is based on a research paper commissioned by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU/CUPE). The paper entitled "Ontario Hospital Crisis: Overcapacity and Under Threat" was revealed at a media teleconference held Wednesday morning.
The report projects staff and funding cuts for hospitals in Sudbury, North Bay, Kenora, Fort Frances, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay as examples of the depth of the cuts that are projected.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Ontario hospitals have only limited capacity after decades of cuts from successive governments, the crisis for Northern Ontario hospital patients will get much worse, said the research paper.
The findings were based on the PC Ontario 2021 budget that was tabled in March.
"According to the CUPE report that uses government data to extrapolate the projections, provincewide hospital funding will fall almost $600 million behind in the first year alone and to more than $4.4 billion in year eight. Assuming staffing follows funding, that would mean 15.3-per-cent less staff relative to demand. This would be like operating Ontario’s hospitals today with almost 34,000 fewer staff," said the report.
Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), said the predicted cuts would drive Northern hospitals into the ground.
“As these ongoing cuts take hold, year after year for the next decade, hospitals in Ontario’s northwest and northeast will stagger as an aging and growing population pits far too many very sick patients against its weakening capacity,” said Hurley.
“Patients will be at risk. There will be no surge capacity. This government has learned nothing from the COVID pandemic.”
Hurley said even though the Baby Boomer generation is aging out naturally, and pressure on hospitals will be easing in 20 years, there is still a need for investment now. Hurley said there is a moral imperative in Ontario to look after residents now.
"I personally can't believe that Ontario would have denied hospital care to elderly Ontarians in long-term care during Wave One," said Hurley. He said that was an immoral choice, an unethical choice and it was the wrong choice.
"It reflects the kind of rationing that will only intensify as we go forward," said Hurley.
As a result, he said OCHU/CUPE is calling on the government in general and specific Northern Ontario PC MPPs — Vic Fedeli, Ross Romano and Greg Rickford — not to let the cuts happen in the North.
"The second thing is to restore capacity in Ontario, to bring us up at least to the average of the rest of Canada, in terms of the beds and staffing we have so we can actually meet the demographic pressures the hospital system faces," said Hurley.
He said this would enable Ontario to have some sort of surge capacity to deal with any future pressures or pandemics.
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.