More than 100 Toronto emergency room professionals released an open letter on Tuesday, urging the province to reverse cuts being made to public health care.
“Our emergency departments and hospitals are under tremendous stress, and there is no end in sight for hallway medicine,” according to the letter, addressed to Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Ontario minister of health and long-term care.
“Keeping people healthy and out of the emergency department is good for patients, our hospitals, taxpayers and ultimately the entire community.”
The letter cites the ongoing opioid epidemic as one of the reasons why more, not less money is needed for public health. It pointed out that last month alone, Toronto paramedics responded to 188 suspected overdoses of which seven of the patients died.
Emergency room physician Dr. Raghu Venugopal, speaking after a press conference held at city hall on Tuesday before a board of health budget committee meeting, said hospital emergency departments are sometimes so backed up that patients waiting for treatment lie down on the floor.
“In Toronto emergency departments today, many patients have to be ill, first of all, in a chair — so there are no stretchers available for many patients and many patients ask me directly: ‘Can I please lie down,’ and when they can’t lie down, they lie on the floor. They lie on the floor in the waiting room, they lie on the floor in treatment areas,” Venugopal said.
“This is honest-to-goodness the reality of where we are right now.”
The board of health budget committee is considering cuts to some ancillary programs in order to deal with the reduction in funding by the province. Ford announced in August that the province would reduce funding to public health by 30 per cent.
A report from the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, presented at the committee meeting on Tuesday estimates the reduction in provincial funding announced in August will leave Toronto Public Health about $4 million short in 2020 and $14 million short in subsequent years.
While the 30 per cent reduction in funding is less than what was initially announced after the provincial budget was tabled, Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy said Tuesday before the committee meeting that the province should be adding money to public health budgets, not reducing it.
“This is fundamentally about prevention, and every dollar you invest, you save dollars and you improve the health of people and so we should be investing more, not less in public health,” Cressy said.
“For our budget, every year we go through and we find areas to deliver our services better with savings. We’re going to do that again, but there aren’t enough savings to make up for the provincial cuts, it’s just that simple.”
Ford backed down from deeper cuts in the face of lobbying by Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York), Mayor John Tory, who began canvassing voters in a downtown ward represented by a Conservative MPP on the issue, and other municipal and public health officials provincewide.
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The committee meeting went in camera to discuss personnel issues and will resume later today.
A spokesperson for Elliott’s office could not immediately be reached.