Ontario hospitals looking for $800M in today's provincial budget

Ontario's finance minister has promised to deal with hospital overcrowding in the budget he tables at 4 p.m. today.

Ottawa hospital advocates hope budget will remedy 'basic math problem'

Doctors say there is no consistent cause of the illness that causes paralysis in mostly children. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Associations representing Ontario's hospitals, nurses and hospital employees all hope that today's provincial budget will include the "major booster shot" promised by Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

And they know how big they want that shot in the arm to be.

The Ontario Hospital Association, Ontario Nurses' Association, Ontario Council of Health Unions and others have all asked for an increase to hospital spending in the neighbourhood of five per cent, or more than $800 million province-wide.

The amount might sound like a lot of money, but a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) who deals with health care data said that amount is needed simply to prevent the system from getting worse.

"That's not leading to enrichment, that's just keeping the system from having more crises, more backlogs, more problems," said Doug Allan.

Family devastated after surgery rescheduled

When MPPs on the finance standing committee made their stop in the Ottawa area during budget consultations last December, Cumberland resident Nancy Parker decided she had to share a very difficult story of her family's healthcare problem.

She told them how her 55-year-old sister-in-law needed a stronger defibrillator implanted and went to hospital for the surgery, anxious but ready.

By mid-afternoon, Parker's sister-in-law was told an emergency had taken longer than expected and her appointment was rescheduled for two weeks later.

Parker recounted how that morning, the woman's daughter and 87-year-old mother arrived to pick her up for the appointment, only to find she had died in her bed.

"This was devastating for them, as it would be for anybody," Parker told CBC News, adding the family is still reeling a year later.

"This has left us wondering if the rescheduling … if things wouldn't have turned out differently for her. And that's not something we should ever have to ask ourselves," said Parker.

"We often hear of wait times or things being rescheduled, but I don't think we really understand the full implications of things like that."

Hospitals deal with too few beds

What is known is that Ottawa's hospitals often have too few beds available for the number of patients admitted, and staff have been cut.

The Ontario Nurses' Association reports that 100 registered nursing positions were cut among Ottawa's hospitals in the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, a scan this week of the Ottawa Hospital's website showed its 917 beds at the Civic and General campuses were operating at 110 per cent occupancy.

Alex Munter is the CEO of CHEO. He''s also calling for more funding to help with capacity problems. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"It's shocking but it's not particularly unusual," said CUPE's Allan of the bed shortage. "In large urban centres that's quite common."

It would be far more acceptable for hospital beds to be at 85 per cent capacity to allow for a surge in patients, he said. 

The overcrowding is the result of Ontario hospital budgets that saw no increase for several years before getting an extra $140 million in 2016, Allan explained.

"It's a basic math problem," agreed Alex Munter, CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

"If you've got increasing demand and population growth, but diminishing resources, then something's got to give — and what ends up giving is capacity."

Finance minister promises to deal with overcrowding

Finance Minister Charles Sousa told The Canadian Press he knows that overcrowding and capacity has been a problem across Ontario.

"We have to find a better way of dealing with that, and that's what we're doing in the upcoming budget," Sousa said. "We don't want people to be in hallways."

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa will unveil this year's budget around 4 p.m. ET. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Ontario Hospital Association will be watching the budget closely.

"A significant funding increase in the 2017 Ontario budget is needed to keep wait times low, maintain access to care, and to meet the needs of Ontario's growing and increasingly complex patient population," said Anthony Dale, the association's CEO, in statement.

To truly close the gap for hospitals, Ontario will need to continue increasing their budgets, Allan said.

"What would be very disappointing is we get a pre-election bump and then we go back to the same thing," the CUPE researcher said.

"We need this year after year in order to not make the situation worse."

with files from The Canadian Press