DURHAM/SCARBOROUGH, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 24, 2016) - The Ontario Health Coalition expressed outrage in reaction to news that the Minister of Health is forcing through massive hospital mergers in Scarborough and Durham affecting more than a million residents in the region.
The Coalition is holding a "Day of Action" at Ontario's Legislature on Monday to bring the message directly to politicians at Queen's Park. It is more important than ever, Coalition spokespeople said, to continue the fight. Local residents are invited to get on buses and join car pools to travel into Toronto for the events. The Coalition will continue to advocate to ensure that local hospital services are protected and that local hospitals cannot simply be dismantled by the stroke of a pen by the Wynne government.
Yesterday the Minister of Health issued an order that will force mega-mergers of the Scarborough and Durham hospitals that were already merged in earlier rounds of hospital restructuring. Under the Minister's edict, the Centenary hospital will be merged into the Scarborough Hospital (Scarborough General and Scarborough Grace - Birchmount site). The Ajax-Pickering Hospital will be taken over by Lakeridge Health (which covers the hospitals in Port Perry, Bowmanville and Oshawa). Three already-very-large hospital corporations will be merged into two giant hospital corporations.
This marks the first time the Minister of Health has used the extraordinary powers that the Liberal government gave itself in its LHINs legislation to order, by fiat, the dismantling of a local public hospital corporation against the will of the community. Rouge Valley Health (Ajax-Pickering and Centenary hospitals) recently cancelled a special meeting of its membership at which the members would have had the right to vote on the transfer of the hospitals and all their assets. The Ajax-Pickering community has fundraised for and built its hospital since 1958. The Minister's order will force the dismantling of the hospital corporation and the transfer of the ownership of the assets to Scarborough and Lakeridge.
Calling it hospital restructuring "on steroids" with precious few procedural safeguards and no proper health planning, the coalition warned that Ontarians will pay for the bad decisions that are being made now for decades to come if they are not stopped.
The mergers will cost almost $50 million according to the hospitals' own documents filed with the government. There are almost no "efficiencies" to be found, and, according to the hospitals' own financial projections the mergers will take up to 62 years to be paid off, if ever. The $50 million in costs will come out of the hospitals operating budgets. In virtually every instance, the government and hospital executives have responded to questions about the high costs of the mergers and the impacts on operating budgets by putting out manipulative propaganda about capital (renovations and bricks and mortar) projects that were already announced multiple times, have nothing to do with the current operational budgets of the hospitals, and will not offset the $50 million in merger costs to be paid out of funds for current hospital services.
In context, a $17 million cut to the operational budget of the Scarborough Hospital in 2013 meant the closure of 20 surgical beds and 2 entire operating rooms, cuts to 22 hospital departments, closures of entire outpatient clinics including the arthritis clinic that thousands of patients, and the elimination of 200 full-time nurses, health professionals and support staff positions. The $50 million in costs for the mergers amounts to almost 3 times the $17 million cut that Scarborough just went through.
To add insult to injury, according to the hospitals' own documents, those $50 million in costs are going to merger "management teams", consultants, lawyers, millions for laying off and cutting hospital staff, PR and advertising to sell the merger to the public, and to merging telephone and email systems, among others.
The Coalition noted that there been no proper process through Ontario's Legislature, including no legislative debate and no public hearings to support a policy of hospital mega-mergers. It warns that hospital consolidations are accelerating without any proper public policy process and without any attention being paid to the extraordinary costs of such restructuring that will take tens millions away from actual health care services. The last round of hospital restructuring cost more than $3.8 billion, according to Ontario's Auditor General and has never delivered on promised administrative savings, but it did result in devastating losses of local hospitals and services across the province.
"We are outraged at the undemocratic, manipulative process," said Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition. "If towns with hospitals that serve 200,000 people are no longer allowed to have their own hospital, then Ontarians are in real trouble. Current policy requires merged hospitals to eliminate so-called 'duplication.' This means that patients have to travel to one hospital for diagnostics, to another hospital for chronic care, another for palliative care and so on. Mergers mean that patients and families are forced to travel further, and for the increased hardship, Ontario residents are on the hook for $50 million more in merger costs. Plainly put, this is a bad deal."
"This government should not be so high-handed in their treatment of the public hospitals that Ontarians have built over the last hundred years in our hometowns," noted Trish McAuliffe, co chair of the Durham Health Coalition. "If the government wants to adopt a policy of unprecedented massive hospital restructuring affecting vital services for millions of Ontarians, it has to seek a mandate from the Ontario Legislature to do so. The way this has happened is just wrong."
"A new wave of mega-hospital consolidation is being pushed by a tier of hospital executives and consultants through backroom agreements," warned William Courneyea, co chair of the Durham Health Coalition. "They are the prime beneficiaries of hospital restructuring and always have been, at the expense of patients and communities. As long as they are the only ones with any real input, restructuring will be forged in their interests and they will continue to make a fortune at the expense of patients and community residents."