Many emergency rooms in Ottawa-Carleton were in crisis during this year's flu season, experiencing up to twenty-hour waits for often critically ill patients. This crisis is a direct result of $130 million in provincial government cuts to our local hospitals over the last four years. To have such a big cut over a short period of time is just too much. That's the equivalent of closing almost five Grace Hospitals. Is there any wonder that we have a hospital crisis in Ottawa?
The government engineered nursing shortage has further exacerbated the situation. You may remember the government forced the firing of more than 8,000 nurses province-wide a few years ago.
Realizing their folly, the government provided $6 million to the Ottawa Hospital to re-hire the fired nurses. Sadly, the money was spent primarily to pay down the hospital's debt – not to hire nurses. The provincial government does not permit hospitals to carry a deficit. Ironically, a lot of the deficit is caused both by overtime paid to the remaining nursing staff, which is often overworked, as well as money paid to private nursing agencies to provide relief.
A number of hospital administrators feel caught between a rock and a hard place. They are not able to share the real picture with the public for fear of losing the community's confidence in their institution. When I was Chief Executive Officer for the CHEO Foundation, the fundraising arm of CHEO, I was in a unique position to establish lasting relation with many health care professionals.
For the first time since the Harris Hospital ‘Reorganization' began I have been getting calls, out of desperation, from these professionals who are appalled at the low level of hospital treatment for their patients. As well I have received so many calls from upset patients unable to get treatment or surgery. Reports of surgical cancellations are unprecedented.
This is not the time to cut. It's the time to plan. The funding commitments made by the Harris Government during the last election and after need to be delivered NOW, otherwise the situation will only get worse.
Front line health professionals have identified the lack of acute care beds as one of the major problems creating the crisis situation. There have been 5514 acute care beds and 2537 chronic care beds closed in Ontario since 1995.