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New figures show hospital overcrowding will have 'drastic impact' on care, Ontario NDP says

Every day this week, New Democrats released new figures showing hospitals crammed to overcapacity

Blurred patients being treated in Surrey Memorial Hospital ER corridor

Ontario's Liberal government budgeted an extra $21 million in 2017-18 for 'short-term transitional care' for patients stuck in hospital beds because they have nowhere else to go. That works out to 0.1 per cent of the hospital system's $18 billion operating budget.

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The pressure is growing on the Wynne government to tackle chronic overcrowding in the province's hospitals after repeated revelations about patients being cared for in hallways and lounge areas.

On Thursday, for the fourth straight day, the NDP will make public new figures about hospitals operating at overcapacity earlier this year. The New Democrats obtained the hospital statistics through Freedom of Information requests.

The revelations included:    

  • As many as 97 beds at Toronto's brand new Humber River Hospital in what the administration calls "unconventional spaces."
  • Acute-care occupancy rates above 100 per cent in every month from January to May at both Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General hospitals. 
  • The Tillsonburg Hospital operated at 112 per cent to 123 per cent of capacity during the first five months of 2017.  

"Our hospital system is in crisis," said NDP health critic France Gélinas in an interview with CBC News on Wednesday. "I have gone to see those hospitals and you see the stretchers everywhere. There isn't a TV room, a patient lounge or a hallway that doesn't have an extra bed." 

France Gelinas

Ontario NDP health critic France Gélinas. (CBC)

The overcrowding "puts everybody in the hospital at risk and those risks are serious," said Gélinas. "It has the possibility to have drastic impact on the quality of care. It needs to be addressed." 

On Thursday, the NDP will release figures from Lakeridge Health showing there were more mental health patients than beds at its Oshawa hospital every month from January to May this year, and more acute care patients than beds at its Ajax-Pickering location in January.  

"The vast majority of hospitals across this province are below and often substantially below capacity," Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Wednesday during Question Period. 

A key factor in the overcrowding is that one out of every six beds in Ontario hospitals is currently occupied by a patient who no longer needs acute care, according to Health Ministry figures. That's some 3,000 patients, many of them waiting for space in a nursing home, or adequate home care. The system officially labels them "alternate level of care" (ALC) patients but sometimes refers to them as "bed-blockers."

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'The vast majority of hospitals across this province are below and often substantially below capacity,' Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Wednesday during Question Period.

The Wynne government has allocated $21 million ​this year to what the Health Ministry describes as "short-term transitional care models" to tackle the bed-blocking problem. The province asked its regional health networks for proposals back in May. Although Hoskins has signalled some announcements will be coming soon, he has not indicated how many beds the funding would free up.

Ontario's annual hospital budget is $18 billion.

CBC News revealed last week that the government is considering a plan to create 150 transition beds in the old Finch Avenue location of Humber River Hospital to help relieve overcrowding in GTA health centres..  

The alternate level of care problem has been an issue in Ontario hospitals for years, but has now reached "an all-time high," says a recent post by members of the Queen's University Health Policy Council. 

"If patients keep coming in increasing numbers and nothing is done about their ALC patients, hospitals will need a significant cash infusion very soon," says the post on the Queen's School of Policy Studies blog. "It is crucial that new investments be targeted at 'anti-gridlock' initiatives."

Two of the authors of the post are Don Drummond, who led the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services in 2012, and Dr. David Walker, who wrote a report to the health minister on the alternate level of care issue in 2011. Both reports urged the government to reduce the number of bed-blocking patients, with such recommendations as investing more in home care.

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