Ontario has freed up 3,414 hospital beds this fall by moving elderly patients who no longer need acute care into nursing homes, but the transfers under the Ford government’s controversial Bill 7 have not resulted in shorter wait times for beds.
“We haven’t seen that yet,” Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in an interview Friday as her office provided statistics on moves since the legislation took effect in September, allowing hospitals to transfer such patients to nursing homes not of their choosing.
“But we do expect that will happen as a result.”
The legislation, officially called the More Beds, Better Care Act, includes powers for hospitals to charge patients who are cleared for discharge but refusing to leave daily fees of $400, which critics have called a “bludgeon” intended to coerce consent.
It also includes powers to move hospital patients to nursing homes as far away as 70 kilometres in southern Ontario and 150 kilometres in northern Ontario in an effort to clear hospital beds for the winter surge of respiratory viruses like the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 that is slamming overburdened hospital emergency rooms.
The reason the cleared beds have not resulted in shorter wait times for admissions to hospitals is likely because of the high volume of patients swamping emergency departments, said Liberal MPP Dr. Adil Shamji (Don Valley East).
“At the same time that we’re moving a lot of patients out, there’s just an astronomical tsunami of patients that are coming in,” added Shamji, an emergency room physician.
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Hospitals are also having trouble coming up with enough nurses and other staff amid retirements, illnesses, burnout and vacations, he said.
According to the ministry statistics, there are 24 per cent fewer people — mostly seniors who no longer need acute care — occupying hospital beds while waiting for nursing homes, rehabilitation hospital beds or to go home with home care.
They are known as “alternate level of care” patients and 2,656 of them have put additional long-term care homes on their list of potential destinations once discharged.
Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said many were listing just “one or two” preferences instead of the maximum of five allowed.
Calandra added “to the best of my understanding,” there have been no long-distance moves beyond the 70 and 150 kilometre guidelines that would leave the frail elderly further away from their support systems of family and friends.
To help clear hospital beds, the province has also opened 1,829 nursing home beds that were previously reserved for isolation, and about 500 respite care beds have been added so caregivers can get a break, Calandra told the Star.
The Ontario Health Coalition and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly have said they are preparing a challenge of Bill 7 under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, alleging it violates the rights of the elderly with “coercive” charges and breaches provisions against age discrimination.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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