Ont. to unveil strategy to allow more hospital patients to receive home care

The province will soon unveil a strategy to unclog emergency rooms.

The province will soon unveil a "comprehensive strategy" to unclog emergency rooms by reducing the number of patients who are taking up hospital beds when they can receive the needed care at home, Health Minister George Smitherman said Wednesday.

Smitherman wouldn't provide any details, but promised the plan would look at adjusting the level of services that such "alternate level of care" patients can receive at home, such as nursing and homemaking.

"We think that that will be successful in allowing some individuals that are in the hospital to go home, even if for a period of time while they wait for admission to a long-term care bed," he said after a speech laying out the government's health-care priorities.

But that's nothing more than "empty rhetoric" from a government that has promised for years to reduce ER wait times and has yet to come up with a concrete plan, said Progressive Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer.

"Five years later, this government still has no plan with any details, with any benchmarks to indicate that they're moving towards some sort of target," she said.

"How will we know when they've achieved their goal?"

Some cities have had ambulances unable to respond to calls because they're tied up in emergency rooms with patients who can't get a bed.

The government will reveal "innovative" measures in the next few weeks that should help alleviate some of those pressures, Smitherman said.

"You cannot have a good performing emergency room so long as an emergency room doesn't have beds to admit people," he said.

"And so creating better flow through the hospital is an extraordinarily big part of our focus, and you'll see substantive effort on that within two or three weeks."

Helping the elderly stay in their homes will be crucial in tackling Ontario's rapidly growing population of seniors, Smitherman told a health-care conference.

It's part of a government plan to reduce wait times in emergency rooms — one of his top two priorities for health care over the next four years, he said.

Improving access to family health care by providing more family health teams and nurse practitioner-led clinics is also at the top of his agenda, Smitherman added.

But the province is facing a "demographic tsunami" as the number of seniors is expected to double over the next 16 years, he said.

The government will be spending an additional $1.1 billion over the next four years to provide better community services, like Meals on Wheels, that will help the elderly stay in their homes, Smitherman said.

Opposition parties have hammered the Liberals in recent months for failing seniors in nursing homes who they say aren't getting the care they need.

Critics have complained that the province's nursing homes are so underfunded that residents must wait hours for meals, are put to bed too early and are forced to wear soiled diapers for hours.

Smitherman's speech was just another "superficial photo op" that paints a false picture of health care in Ontario, said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.

"The reality that's happening out there is, in fact, the opposite," he said.

"People who need home care now can't get it and therefore wind up in hospital in an acute care bed, which then backs up into the emergency room."