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Funding cuts, not the flu, to blame for hospital beds crisis: OPSEU

Oshawa – Lakeridge Health is facing such an extreme hospital bed shortage this holiday season that they have set up an emergency command centre to deal with the record patient volumes in the emergency department. 

But according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), this should come as no surprise. For years, OPSEU has raised red flags about the impact of devastating cuts to hospital beds, services, and staff, as Ontario has now entered its ninth consecutive year of real-dollar hospital cuts.

“You can’t cut thousands of acute care beds out of hospitals over two decades and expect the health care system to function properly,” said Sara Labelle, chair of OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division. “We’re not admitting people to hospital frivolously. Patients are admitted because of the severity of their conditions. Often they are in desperate need of care.”

Hospital officials have linked the recent surge in volume and subsequent lack of beds to flu season. Labelle argues that while the most vulnerable populations may require hospitalization, that does not fully explain the current crisis. The beds crisis at Lakeridge Health is a symptom of a much deeper problem. It’s the result of chronic and severe underfunding and ongoing bed cuts.

At any given time, on an average day, there are approximately 12 to 25 people waiting in emergency for a bed at Lakeridge Health, according to Labelle. “That means that the hospital is regularly overcapacity, like many hospitals across the province. Flu season is only exacerbating a much more deeply rooted problem that Ontario’s hospitals, including Lakeridge Health, face every day.”

The bed crisis at Lakeridge is compounded by the fact that hospitals across the entire region in Port Perry, Bowmanville, and Northumberland Hills have been downsizing and cutting services and beds for years as a result of inadequate funding. This has put more demand and strain on the already overstretched, larger centre hospitals.

“It’s shocking that the hospital has opened an emergency command centre because of a bed shortage at the same time they’re spending $18 million on an unnecessary hospital merger,” said OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “That’s millions of dollars funnelled away from frontline patient care.”

“How many hospital beds could $18 million fund?” asked Thomas.

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Sara Labelle, 905-914-4037