Health care suffers as province scrimps

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Over the course of a little more than a year, the Wellington Advertiser and North Wellington Community News have reported on several occasions that local health care facilities have been compelled to temporarily close vital departments due to understaffing and re-direct those in need of urgent services to other facilities.

In 2022 a shortage of nurses trained in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care within North Wellington Health Care’s network forced expectant mothers to seek care at alternative locations to the corporation’s two hospitals – Palmerston and District Hospital and Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest – from June 6 to Sept. 1.

On the weekend of July 16 to 18 Louise Marshall Hospital closed its emergency department after 5pm, although it remained open during the day.

Last year, Groves Memorial Community Hospital was compelled to close its obstetrics department over the August long weekend, redirecting patients from July 29 until Aug. 1 at 7am.

Last month, Louise Marshall Hospital twice closed its ER doors overnight, from 7pm on July 6 until 7am on July 7 and again from 7pm on July 20 to 7am on July 21.

As they become more routine, area residents have seemed to accept these closures surprisingly stoically, as they sparked little in the way of protest and scant mention in our letters to the editor section. Still, it seems particularly galling to learn through a July 18 report from Ontario’s Office of Financially Accountability, that funds to rectify at least some of our health care woes, might have been available.

The report found the province spent $7.2 billion less than planned across all budget areas in the 2021-22 fiscal year, including under-spending of about $1.8 billion on health care.

Although total spending on health care was up over the previous year, the report indicated increases for public health, physician payments and long-term care home operation and major hospital projects was offset by lower government spending on small hospital projects and hospital operations.

In its regular reports to local councils last spring, the Minto-Mapleton Health Care Professional recruitment team described a situation in which under-funding of hospitals and health care teams has made recruiting extremely difficult.

And yet our provincial government, the level tasked with primary responsibility for health care in Ontario, scrimped on the health budget to save funds that, if past is prologue, will likely be squirreled away to make the province’s deficit appear lower, or offer election enticements to voters in time for the next accounting at the ballot box.

At the same time Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is under-spending its own health care budget, Premier Doug Ford is joining other provincial premiers in pressuring Canada’s federal government to up its share of the nation’s health care ante.

While action from the feds on this front would actually be welcome, one can understand their reluctance to dole out funds that could end up in Premier Ford’s election goody slush fund.