Thursday, December 4, 2008

Niagara Health System: second-highest deficit in Ontario; third-highest death-rate in Canada: but why should Liberal MPP Jim Bradley care?

John Robbins wrote in “Hospital cuts put patients at risk: Tory critic”, (St. Catharines Standard, Dec.3, 2008):

“Ontario hospitals -- some running at or near 100 per cent occupancy much of the time -- are being forced into making decisions that put access to patient care at risk so that they can balance their budgets, Progressive Conservative Health Critic Elizabeth Witmer says.

"What we have now is we have hospitals who have been told by the Ministry (of Health) you have to balance your budget and if you can't balance your budget, you're going to have to find a way to do it," Witmer said.

"There is no process or plan. It's left up to the individual hospitals, who have now, in the past three years, cut all the low-hanging fruit and there's no more fruit to cut."

On Monday, Witmer's office issued a press release warning "hospital deficits are a provincewide health crisis" because the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty is forcing hospitals to balance their budgets while at the same the province is not offering hospitals a funding increase that keeps pace with inflation.

Witmer cited recent cuts to services at hospitals in Kitchener, Cambridge and Kingston as examples of what happens when hospitals are required to balance their books in the absence of an overall government plan for service delivery.

"It's very, very serious," said Witmer. "I think eventually we're going to see more hospitals being announced for closure, as well."

Witmer's office provided a list of 52 Ontario hospitals that posted a deficit during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The Niagara Health System, which operates six hospital sites and one prompt-care centre, had the second highest deficit during that period.

The NHS deficit was $18.45 million last year, according to figures from the standing committee on estimates.

Only Brampton's William Osler Health Centre recorded a larger deficit: $20.57 million.

Witmer said even more hospitals are projecting deficits this year. While the ministry promised a 2.4 per cent funding increase this year and 2.1 per cent increase next year, hospital expenses are expected to increase by four to five per cent due to rising utility and salary costs, she estimates.

She accused the Liberal government of failing to develop a plan to deal with the demands of an aging population, even though they've been in power for five years.

Steve Erwin, a spokesman for Ontario Health Minister David Caplan, said Witmer is painting a false picture.

While the government is requiring hospitals to be accountable for their spending, funding has been on the rise and is "at an all-time high."

"We can't continue to have health-care spending rise at the rate it has in the past," Erwin said.

He said the government has asked hospitals to work with their respective Local Health Integration Network to identify savings.

Local Health Integration Networks are the agencies of the provincial government that have been given responsibility for health-care planning and funding, including approving hospital budgets.

He said hospitals contemplating cuts should start by reducing non-clinical costs.

"If there are other actions that are necessary, we want them to work with the LHINs to identify what services could be served outside of the hospital," Erwin said.

Last May, the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN ordered the Niagara Health System to develop a hospital improvement plan to deal with its deficit.

Among other things, the plan proposes consolidating some medical specialities into "centres of excellence" and downgrading emergency departments in Fort Erie and Port Colborne to urgent-care centres.

Critics say such measures will limit timely access to core hospital services for a large number of Niagara residents, particularly those living in the southern tier.

NHS officials said the plan will result in a better quality of care for all residents, and will help recruit more doctors and nurses to the area.

What only become apparent since the plan was unveiled in July is that it won't entirely solve the NHS's budgetary woes.

The plan was reviewed by Dr. Jack Kitts, president of The Ottawa Hospital.

On Oct. 28, Kitts reported the NHS is an efficient organization and it will require a permanent cash infusion from the government to successfully implement its plan and balance its books.

NHS president and chief executive officer Debbie Sevenpifer has said the health system requires $15 million to $20 million in additional operating funding.”


More threatened health care cuts and closures…that’s MPP Jim Bradley’s Liberal health care monopolists at work! Workin’ hard to better Tommy Douglas’s socialist legacy, not better health choices for patients; providing “symbolic” health-care in the same smarmy Liberal fashion as their laughable “symbolic” pay-increase-cuts (!) … this is all just Gritty sleight-of-hand; a Liberal parody of a farce, disguised as a charade.

It’s plain smoke and mirrors; good ole bait'n'switch Liberal Healthcare Duplicity.

Will Jim Bradley explain what Erwin means when he says that Witmer is painting a false picture – what specifically is "false"?

‘Funding has been on a rise’ claims Erwin: but, really, is it per-patient funding which is “at an all-time high”? Come on!

"We can't continue to have health-care spending rise at the rate it has in the past," Erwin says.

Hmm: “in the past”?

WHEN specifically "in the past": after 2003?

Or: prior to 2003 - the period in which Liberals like to chortle about supposed Conservative cuts?!

If Erwin's referring to after 2003, then he's admitting the Liberals are cutting down on their own spending!!

Let’s not forget that when then-Liberal Finance Minister Greg Sorbara stood to introduce his hated Health Tax in Ontario's Legislature on May 18, 2004, Sorbara noted in his budget speech that: "For the past five years, health care budgets in Ontario have grown by an average of 8% per year."

That's right: the Liberals actually complained that for five years the Conservatives spent TOO MUCH on health-care, and so the Liberals were now going to "control " that!

“To improve” health-care, Sorbara said , his Liberals had “to delist” previously-covered health-care! (see: Ontario medicare-monopoly 'riding on reputation', needs rebuild)

Since McGuinty's Liberals created the hated Health Tax in 2004, they have picked over 12 billion dollars from Ontarian's pockets, but continue forcing cuts and consolidations to their health-monopoly province wide. Where has the Health Tax money really gone? Bradley's Liberals are now in deficit and have led Ontario to a 'have-not' status.

Yet, "health care spending in Ontario has grown at a fairly constant rate, both before and after the imposition of the tax," wrote Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. (National Post, Aug.11, 2008) "If the tax were really for health care then health care spending should have jumped. It did not. What did go up were projects like corporate welfare to American based multi-nationals and slush funds." Gaudet notes "The tax is not dedicated to or used for health care. It is a spend-happy government's way of lining the public treasury." (see: We cannot ignore glaring failures in Liberal monopoly health-care)

Echoing Sorbara, former Liberal Health Minister Smitherman alleged the NHS was in some kind of spending free-for-all which had to be reigned in; now current Liberal Health Minister David Caplan’s spokesman Erwin is also using the 'cut to save' mantra. Don't you like it how now Erwin is relying on the LHINs to "identify savings"?! Far be it for Bradley, Caplan, or McGuinty to actually get involved in that dirty work!

When Witmer says that patient care is at risk due to Liberal-instituted health budget constraints, why is the Liberal government claiming that as being false?!

In “NHS would be forced to make cuts if improvement plan not approved” (St. Catharines Standard, Dec.4, 2008) NHS CEO Debbie Sevenpifer again was reported saying that the NHS’s accumulating deficit shows it needs more money from the province.

She also said that even if the HIP plan is approved by the LHIN, the NHS will still need more provincial funding!!

The above story also reported that “The NHS has the second-largest annual deficit in the province.”

Interesting: long-term Liberal underfunding at the NHS, coupled with the Nov.29, 2007 CIHI revelation that the NHS’s largest hospital had the third-highest (and still unexplained) patient death-rate in Canada, and yet, Bradley’s Liberals deny there is a corresponding link between patient care and their under-funding model !!

Why are Bradley and his Liberal gang of health-care monopolists underfunding the NHS, then pretending that they’re not?!? Why are Liberals afraid to allow the Ombudsman access to investigate their hospitals and scrutinize their funding claims?

What an irresponsible, negligent approach towards patient health, especially given that Bradley’s ideological Liberals are health monopolists who purposefully deny Ontarians any other alternatives to the Liberal's parsimonious state rations. That's nothing short of criminal.

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