The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) is urging the provincial government to take immediate action against a looming hospital predicament, warning that without the integration of thousands of additional hospital beds and staff beyond the current plans, the situation is bound to worsen. This warning comes as part of a report named “The Hospital Crisis: No Capacity, No Plan, No End,” presented by Michael Hurley, president of the OCHU, and Doug Allan of CUPE’s hospital sector research.
The union estimates that a 22% increase in bed capacity and staffing levels is requisite over the next four years, necessitating an additional 8,170 hospital beds and hiring of approximately 60,000 more staff. This is crucial in providing adequate care for Ontario’s swell in the elderly and overall population size. For the city of Toronto alone, an estimated addition of about 2,270 hospital beds and the hiring of nearly 11,960 more hospital workers is recommended.
In a recent press conference, Hurley pointed out the worrying trend of individuals being released from hospitals while still critically ill and others being denied admission due to lack of capacity, along with escalating wait times leading to deaths and congested emergency departments. He described the stresses that the hospital staff are enduring due to the increasing demands of the aging population, coupled with COVID, RSV, and flu cases, as akin to a tsunami pushing a system that was already lacking excess capacity and now nearing the breaking point.
Data indicates that Ontario’s hospitals have an 18% per capita staffing deficit compared to other provinces. The shortfall is being keenly felt across services including intensive care, support, emergency rooms, and operating rooms. Allan further pointed out the overall deficit equates to 33,778 full-time equivalent staff missing when compared to the other provinces.
Regarding job vacancies, the report highlights a significant increase over the past year, with a 19.3% surge translating to an additional 4,015 job vacancies. The resultant effects of these unchecked issues are significant ER closures that gravely impact small and rural towns.
Referring to the Financial Accountability Office (FAO)’s report, Ontario experienced 145 unplanned emergency department closures last year due to staffing shortages and higher-than-usual capacity. It is also notable that the number of patients being cared for in hallways has reached an all-time high, with 1,289 in-patients per day, marking a 22% increase since 2018. Moreover, fewer surgeries are being conducted, with 107,000 patients waiting beyond the maximum clinical guidelines for their surgeries and nearly 4,523 fewer surgeries being carried out per month as compared to 2019.
Ontario Greens leader, Mike Schreiner articulated the alarming findings of the report as staggering, highlighting the implications on residents who either face unbearable waits or are forced to traverse multiple towns for emergency care due to local ER closures.
The Ford government announced an additional funding of $44 million in July to reduce ER waiting times and extend the fund to smaller hospitals with fewer than 30,000 ER visits each year. “Our government is expanding capacity across the province, getting shovels in the ground for nearly 60 hospital developments over 10 years that will add thousands of beds across the province,” said Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for the Minister of Health.
Despite these promises, concerns linger. The OCHU/CUPE argues that the government’s plan to add 3,000 new hospital beds over the next decade is insufficient to address a 0.79% yearly increase in capacity, given that the provincial population is projected to grow 1.5% yearly over the next decade.
With mounting concerns, Hurley called on the Ontario government to expedite their intended investments, warning that failing to do so could exacerbate the existing crisis in hospitals.