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‘It’s not sustainable’: Hospitals in Northeastern Ontario at or over capacity

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Anecdotal evidence has suggested the four major hospitals in northeastern Ontario have been stretched. Long wait times and patients in ‘non conventional spaces’ all demonstrate this.

CBC News compiled capacity statistics provided by Health Sciences North, Timmins and District Hospital, North Bay Regional Health Centre and the Sault Area Hospital.

The data suggests the system is beyond capacity.

Sudbury: A problem since the ‘one site hospital’ opened

Health Sciences North is the one site hospital that came out of cuts in the 1990s. The original project went over budget and resulted in a downsizing of the final hospital, according to HSN CEO Dominic Giroux.

The one site Health Sciences North was supposed to have 86 more beds, but due to cost overruns, the project was scaled down resulting in regular capacity issues for over a decade. (supplied)

“The working assumption was that there would be zero alternate level of care patients at HSN,” he said. “Well today we have 86 ALC patients in the exact same number. So if that reduction of 86 beds had not been done in 2003 we would not be having capacity issues today.”

Giroux says the mistakes of the past are why he is pushing for forward looking planning including a new capital plan, a strategic plan and working with the Ford government to end hall way health care.

“We want to create more bed spaces,” Giroux says. “We want to create more space for mental health and addictions, we want to create more space to allow for more programming for kids and youth to be delivered here in the region.”

Despite the chronic capacity challenges, and recent budget cuts which led to staff reductions, Giroux says Health Sciences North is still a high performing hospital.

Since November 2017, additional government funding has allowed HSN to open 18 more beds, which has helped relieve capacity loads, says Giroux.

Timmins: Socio-economic pressures adding to the problem

“Understandably when we’re not having turnover in our acute care inpatient units we can’t pull up patients from the E.R. into those beds and we have to house them in our E.R.,” said Wait Time Coordinator Tiina Guillemette​.

Officials acknowledge socioeconomic realities further exacerbate the problems in the health care system.

“Some people simply cannot afford to go to a retirement home setting,” said Guillemette. “Long term care is the only option available to them.”

When long term care is not available, patients stay in hospital.

Recent funding for additional beds by the North East Local Health Integration Network which is confirmed through to the end of March, has taken the pressure off a bit, say hospital staff. 

“When we had our 16 admitted patients waiting for beds we were able to expedite some discharges. Had we not had the 12 beds it would have been a disaster,” said Dr. Harry Voogjarv, Chief of Staff. “Our emergency department would be stuck seeing one or two people at a time as opposed to being able to assess their usual 20 people at a time.”

TADH managed to spread the funding for 10 acute care beds to create a total of 12 ALC beds by using an alternative care model similar to that found in a long term care home. 

“We have been asked to provide numbers around additional bed capacity and and we certainly shared in addition to the twelve beds that we currently have in place throughout the hospital we have the capacity for another 20,” said Joan Ludwig, VP Clinical, Chief Nursing Executive, Timmins and District Hospital.

Staff say it’s this kind of solution-oriented thinking that can bridge the gap in Ontario’s health care system.

North Bay: ‘Patient flow crisis’ since summer 2017

Staff at North Bay Regional Health Centre say the closure of the 66-bed Lady Isabelle Nursing Home has caused a ‘patient flow crisis’ since the summer of 2017. 

Spokesperson Kimberley McElroy says capacity issues have persisted since then and acknowledged the precariousness of the situation ahead of possible impacts by this year’s flu season. 

“The ideal occupancy for acute to maintain optimal patient flow is 80-85%,” McElroy said. Despite that, most hospitals in the region examine capacity based on 100% use.

Sault Ste Marie: Recent surge funding has helped

“We have been struggling with capacity for some time for sure we would be probably quite similar in our pattern with other community hospitals in Ontario,” says Ila Watson, Sault Area Hospital Interim President and CEO.

On Friday, Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano announced funding to support an additional 10 new surge beds for the Sault Area Hospital. 

Watson says bridge funding like this is critical to relieving pressures on the hospital system in the short term. 

“So those types of investments and commitment are enabling us to be more plentiful and ensuring that we’re able to open beds that are appropriate for the medical patients that we are getting rather than having people stay as admitted patients in an emergency department,” she says. 

The Sault Area Hospital has recently converted several areas in the hospital to have overflow beds. While not traditional clinical spaces, Watson says the hospital needs to be creative to address the challenge.

“If we change nothing our costs increase at rates greater than our funding has been increased and that has been a continual pattern. We’ve done a lot of things to create efficiencies and some of the lower hanging fruit is now gone. One of the most significant recent pieces of work that our organization has done is focus on senior friendly care.”

That senior focus, Watson says, is just as important as adding long term care capacity.

“We have also made some significant strides in the way in which we care for the elderly,” she said. “People who might otherwise in years past been destined to either stay in hospital or to move to a long term care facility are now managed in different ways that focus on bringing them back to the state that they were before they came into hospital.”

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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