SUDBURY, ON – The beleaguered North East Local Health Integration Network (NE LHIN) is a “scapegoat” and a pawn in the province’s plan to under-resource health care, says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). “While complicit, the LHIN should not be blamed for the lack of health services in Ontario’s northeast. The provincial government is to blame.”
The Ontario Auditor General (AG) put the spotlight on the province’s health policy and the LHINs specifically in her most recent report. The AG found that the NE LHIN is among the majority of regional health networks that failed to meet “performance targets”. In fact the AG reports, that none of the 14 LHINs met all the performance indicators that measure access to selected health services and readmission patterns of patients with specific health conditions.
“This is more an indicator of how the province’s health policy, to cut hospital care and underfund care in the community sector, is failing patients than how well the LHINs are doing making providers like hospitals, nursing homes and community agencies, dealing with years of underfunding, toe-the-line,” says Hurley.
According to Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) data, Ontario spends 25.3 per cent less than the rest of Canada on hospital care. Provincial funding for the regional hospital in Sudbury would need to increase by $57 million a year just to reach the average hospital funding level in the rest of Canada. As a whole, the rest of Canada is spending 16.7 per cent more than Ontario on long-term care and home and community care.
The auditor appears very concerned “about poor care” in the north and rural areas of the province, says Hurley. She notes that the provincial government has reneged on their promise from 2007 to develop a health care delivery plan for rural and northern Ontario. “The auditor has called the provincial government on this failure, and she has demanded they develop a plan to fix the mess. The inability of hospitals and other health service providers in Ontario’s northeast, challenged by distance and higher rates of cancers, heart disease and addiction, to reach unattainable benchmarks in an underfunded system that’s constantly in a state of reform and change, should not be a surprise,” Hurley says.
Geographically the NE LHIN is the second largest regional network, covering 44 per cent of Ontario. By 2036 the proportion of the population age 65 and over is projected to increase from 19 per cent to 30 per cent, an increase of 65 per cent. NE LHIN has a higher infant mortality rate than the rest of the province. Deaths by heart attack and stroke are 22 per cent higher in the NE LHIN and cancer deaths 16 per cent higher.
In Sudbury where acute care, mental health and complex continuing care have been cut without increasing the capacity of the community sector to deal with mental health patients, the AG’s comments are “particularly trenchant,” says Hurley. The AG notes ….“Repeat unscheduled emergency visits for patients with mental-health or substance abuse conditions within 30 days of a prior visit. According to the Ministry, the main reason for these recurring emergency visits is lack of effective and available community-based services upon discharge.”
Although LHINs are required to undertake strategies to improve patient care, the quality of health services is seldom measured, the auditor says. This is an issue that also came up after the Mike Harris government required hospitals to merge and close.
“Evidence that health service integrations and mergers are saving money is scant. What is clear is that hospital readmission rates, including in Sudbury, are spiking and that health care and hospital care particularly is underfunded,” says Hurley.
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