Staff with the Dryden Regional Health Centre are lobbying the provincial government to increase base funding for all Ontario hospitals by 4.5 per cent, to address unique healthcare challenges in communities across the province.

Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice-President at the Dryden Regional Health Centre, Robert Van Oort, made a presentation to Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillips in Kenora earlier this week, as part of Ontario’s pre-budget consultations.

Van Oort explains that a 4.5 per cent base funding increase would only cost Ontario an extra $33 million this year. In comparison to Ontario’s $64 billion budget, Van Oort says it’s a small price to pay for improved healthcare.

“Many small, rural and northern hospitals are experiencing system capacity pressures, including increasing emergency room visits and alternate level of care patients in our acute care beds. There are growing pressures due to a growing seniors population and an epidemic of drug and substance abuse.”

Staff say that over the past five years, the facility has seen a 6.24 per cent increase in general emergency room visits, and a 46.4 per cent increase in mental health and addiction-related emergency room visits.

The Northern Policy Institute’s recent report on healthcare in the region shows that roughly 60 per cent of emergency room visits could have been avoided in northern Ontario, and over 200 specialist vacancies have been reported in the region.

“There’s a lack of supportive and alternative housing for seniors and those with mental health and addictions issues, and inadequate long-term care capacity. Ontario hospitals have had several years with no base funding increases. Hospitals like ours in Dryden are struggling,” added Van Oort.

Hospital staff add that many patients are waiting in the hospital for care that they should be receiving in more appropriate settings like long-term care, home care or community care. At any given time, roughly 25 per cent of patients at the hospital are waiting for long-term care placements. Staff say that these leaves them with less room to accommodate sudden increases in patients – such as during the winter flu season.

Van Oort is also asking Minister Phillips to invest in a northern and rural health policy to reduce administrative costs, to increase investments in mental health and addictions resources and long-term care, and supportive housing.

In 2019, the DRHC posted a deficit of $55,932, which is an improvement after posting a $105,286 deficit in 2018. However, prior to 2018, the DRHC went over 20 years without posting a single deficit of any kind.

In September, 2019, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Canadian Union of Public Employees projected up to $1.25 million of cuts to the Dryden Regional Health Centre by 2023. CUPE president Michael Hurley says two long-term beds and 11 staff will need to be cut to meet the province’s five-year budget plan, and a $750,000 cut is forecasted by 2022.

At the Association of Municipalities of Ontario meetings in April, 2019, Premier Doug Ford pledged to end hallway medicine within a year. Currently, Ontario has the fewest number of acute care beds of any province, or of any country in a developed economy. Over the last 20 years, the province has cut over 20,000 care beds.

In April, 2019’s provincial budget, the PC’s provided hospitals with a five-year spending plan, a five-year deficit reduction plan, and a $1.3 billion funding increase for healthcare. $900 million of the funding is set for over 6 per cent of salary increases for doctors, with the remaining $400 million for hospitals, long-term care, public healthcare and long-term care. Ontario spends the least of any province for individual hospital care, by roughly $650 per person.

For more information:
$1.25 million of cuts to Dryden hospital coming, CUPE
Dryden hospital calling for provincial support