Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Two decades of hospital cuts have created a health care system in Ontario that punishes, not protects, acutely ill patients and those who require restorative care in their later years.
That is the running theme throughout a new 63-page report recently released by the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (OSLA) and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Entitled, Pushed Out of Hospital, Abandoned at Home: After Twenty Years of Budget Cuts, Ontario's Health System is Failing Patients, the document is seen by its supporters as the start of a major discussion about health care reform leading up to the next provincial election, in October 2015 or possibly sooner.
"We're trying to ring the bell and blow the whistle on this," OCHU president, Michael Hurley, said during a stop in Stratford on March 6 at the Royal Canadian Legion. "We're going to try to draw attention to this issue because (all the parties) need to be shamed into (taking action)."
According to Hurley, the province has cut 19,000 acute care beds over a 20-year period in which the population continued to grow and age. Ontario now has the fewest number of acute care beds of any province in the country, he noted.
The end result, the report concludes, is a system that actively discriminates based on people's age.
"There isn't enough capacity, so how does (the system) cope? It sort of paints older people as though their use of the health car system is inappropriate, that it is blocking beds," Hurley said.
Too often patients who require rehabilitative therapy or convalescent care are being "ignored" and their medical conditions "overlooked" in the hospital, Hurley noted. They are eventually discharged to continue their recovery at home using the outpatient services available in their community. But despite what the province may claim, Hurley said home-care services have not kept pace with closing hospital beds. He also cited an Auditor General's report which found that, from 2005-2011, home care clientele went up 11 per cent while funding for those programs and services rose only five per cent.
In many cases it is the spouse or child who ends up trying to care for a sick family member. They end up taking on responsibility that includes "highly technical medical care with no training or respite," Hurley said.
The report chronicles the anecdotal experiences of hundreds of patients and family members from over 30 communities.
One of the stories is about a 86-year-old woman who was taken to the hospital three times before finally being admitted. She was having difficulty breathing from her osteoporosis and was in pain from two separate falls. After five days she was given a bone scan that revealed she had 17 fractures in her ribs, a broken collarbone, two breaks in her pelvis, a broken knee, and broken wrist. After a month and a half, the hospital told her family she would need to be moved to a nursing home because her condition was no longer critical. She died in hospital before that ever happened.
Another story details an elderly man who was sent home five weeks after suffering a stroke, unable to walk and incontinent. Another is about a 86-year-old who was discharged after two days and sent back to her nursing home with a chest infection.
Hurley noted the stories in the report all share a common theme: that seniors and the elderly in Ontario are not getting the care they deserve.
Local senior, Bill Sylvester, attended Thursday's media conference and afterwards expressed his frustration with today's health care system and how it treats its most vulnerable.
"Once you get to a certain age they don't seem to care anymore, you're not worth it," he said. "If they are going to fix your knee because you're going to go down a ski slope again, well then that's fine, but not if we're going to fix your knee to help you walk."
Sylvester added what's needed in the province are modern longterm care facilities that are accessible, and health care services close to home so that older patients aren't having to travel outside of their community to receive care.
The report, which is available at ochu.on.ca, offers recommendations including reopening chronic and alternative care beds in hospitals, improving access to speech language pathologist in hospitals, and moving away from private for-profit delivery of home care and longterm care.
While new funding is necessary to address things like soaring drug costs, salaries, and OHIP billing by doctors, Hurley said the province can start to address the issues by doing a better job of managing the money that has already has invested in health care. He points to the enormous costs tied to the ORNGE air ambulance and e-Health system scandals, as well as the new Brampton Civic Hospital, which was financed and built under a private-public partnership that the Auditor General later determined could have been developed for at least $50 million less had it not been built by the private sector.
"Why is that allowed to happen? If money is short, how come they can burn cash in a barrel like that?" Hurley asked.
"The money exists within the health care system. It's not properly allocated."
Hurley will be sharing the new report's findings in 60 different communities in the weeks ahead. OCHU and OSLA members will also be meeting with officials from all three political parties in Queen's Park next month. He said he is optimistic.
"Politics in Ontario are very fluid, and all three parties are nervous about an election. If can bring attention to the issue we could see some substantial change to policy," he added.