The Ontario government plans to reopen parts of two shuttered health-care sites in Toronto in a bid to tackle the province's significant shortage of hospital beds, a situation that could get worse as flu season descends on the city.
Eric Hoskins, minister of health and long-term care, said Monday that the government will spend some $100 million to make 1,200 more hospital beds available in communities throughout the province. Hoskins said he hopes to have most of the beds available within two to four weeks, and all by the end of the calendar year.
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Some of the $100-million will also go towards improving care for patients transitioning out of a hospital. Part of that effort includes 150 beds at Humber River Regional Hospital's former Finch Avenue site — closed in 2015 — and 75 beds at University Health Network's former Hillcrest site, which closed its doors in 2013.
CBC Toronto first reported on the province's plan when it was still being negotiated in September. At the time, Hoskins said he was considering a similar strategy at other former health-care sites that are currently not being used to care for patients.
In addition to 1,200 beds, the government says the money will also be spent on:
- 207 new supportive housing units for seniors who need help when they leave hospital.
- Creating some 500 "transitional care spaces" for up to 1,700 patients who need assistance but don't require a hospital stay.
Hoskins said the transitional spaces are slated to be permanent. There are about 3,000 beds in Ontario hospitals occupied by what are called "alternate level of care" patients. These are people who do not need acute care and have been discharged, but still need a level of help beyond what they could get at home on their own.
Whether the additional beds will remain in place after the upcoming flu season will depend on budgetary considerations, Hoskins said.
The Ontario Hospital Association reported last month that this summer brought the longest wait times for emergency care ever recorded in the province since record keeping began nine years ago. It warned that the impending flu season could generate a "capacity crisis" in Toronto and beyond if the government did not respond in time.
Early indicators are pointing to a rough flu season this year. Some countries in the southern hemisphere that just went through winter, such as Australia, struggled with a particularly nasty strain of the virus.
"It's prudent I think that we make sure that we are prepared, and certainly one aspect of this decision is ensure that our hospitals do have the capacity should we face a particularly bad flu season this year," Hoskins said.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the additional beds and funding are welcome, but that "the government is scrambling to try to fix a problem" that it created by not investing enough in hospitals.