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LETTER: Is there a plan to keep our hospitals functioning?

Private clinics do not provide emergency care — public hospitals do, reader says
Thessalon Hospital temporarily closed its ER several times this past summer

SooToday received the following letter from Marie DellaVedova to MPP Ross Romano Marie regarding recent coverage about emergency room wait times and closures.

Dear Mr. Romano,

Unparalleled ER wait times have been in the news. At the end of November Sault Area Hospital reported that its ER was “experiencing a high volume of patients, sicker patients, staffing shortages and limited inpatient beds.”

While hospitals prioritize the most urgent cases, other patients have long waits - in hallways, waiting rooms…wherever space can be found. Medical examinations are done in plain view and hearing range of people nearby. Patients, already distressed, lose privacy and dignity.

Along with overcrowding and long wait times in emergency departments, there is the crisis in care caused by the closures of emergency departments altogether.

In Algoma, the Thessalon public hospital temporarily closed its emergency department several times last summer. It was reported that last year Ontario’s ERs and urgent care centres were temporarily closed more than 1,000 times due to staff shortages.

Some ERs in rural areas, such as in Minden, have closed permanently.

It is more than an inconvenience to have to drive farther to the next emergency department. When prompt treatment matters, lives may be in jeopardy.

As well, numerous people without family doctors are forced to seek primary medical care, including prescription renewals, at an emergency department. ER closures and lengthy wait times affect access to care and health outcomes.

This particularly affects seniors who often deal with issues related to health and transportation. In northern Ontario, where distances between emergency departments can be hundreds of kilometres and weather conditions frequently hamper travel, ER closures disproportionally put northern lives at risk.

Recent Ontario legislation allows for the publicly funded expansion of private hospitals. Such taxpayer-funded private clinics draw staff from underfunded public hospitals and further deplete hospital staff, thereby contributing to the hospital crisis. In addition, for-profit staffing agencies, promising nurses better working conditions and better pay, entice them from the strained public system.

Hospitals, requiring more nurses, are hiring agency nurses and paying them twice as much or more as they pay their staff nurses. Many agency nurses are former staff nurses who have left untenable work environments and poorer paying positions in public hospitals.

Last year, the number and cost of agency hours increased dramatically. “Costs to the public purse more than tripled to $174 million from $38 million.” (Toronto Star, Oct. 19, 2023).

At the same time as the government flows millions of taxpayer dollars to independent health facilities and private agencies, it is reducing its funding to public health care.

Why not invest public money in public health care? Ontario funds its hospitals at the lowest rate in Canada. And that funding doesn’t even match inflation. Yet our public money is going toward the expansion of for-profit clinics.

Without sufficient funding and staff, wait times will continue to increase, hospital emergency rooms will continue to close and operating rooms, that we have paid for, will continue to sit empty on weekends and evenings. Private clinics will flourish at the taxpayer’s expense. While our public hospitals struggle.

The Auditor General’s report in December 2023 stated that Ontario lacks a province-wide strategy to avoid emergency room closures. This is of grave concern. Private clinics do not provide emergency care. Public hospitals do.

Will the government immediately develop a long-range, comprehensive plan to keep our public hospitals functioning? Or is it, in fact, orchestrating their demise?

Marie DellaVedova
Political Advocacy Representative
For RTOERO District 3 Algoma

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