In its latest move to combat hallway health care, Ontario is working to redevelop North York’s Branson hospital site from its ambulatory care role into a “reactivation centre” to get patients no longer needing acute care out of traditional hospital beds, the Star has learned.
The move will free up to 130 hospital beds for patients needing more involved care and give those moved to the Branson site time to rehab before going home, Health Minister Christine Elliott will announce Thursday afternoon.
It’s expected the repurposed Branson site on Finch Ave. west of Bathurst St. will be open next winter, easing strains on nearby North York General Hospital.
“The centre will support patients and their families in their health care journey by providing patients with appropriate therapy and rehabilitation care while they are waiting to transition back home, to the community or to long-term care,” Elliott said in a statement obtained by the Star.
Elliott said Branson officials will get up to $1.5 million to start planning the renovations. About 1,000 to 1,200 patients are being treated in hallways and other unconventional hospital spaces across the province every day.
Once the conversion is complete, Branson will become the fourth such “reactivation” centre opened in Toronto in recent years in an effort to get more patients out of overcrowded emergency room hallways and into beds on the upper floors of hospitals.
The others are at the old Humber River Hospital’s Church St. site near Jane and Hwy 401, the former Humber building on Finch just east of Hwy 400 and the Hillcrest Reactivation Centre owned by the University Health Network off Bathurst north of Dupont St.
“We have first-hand experience with the reactivation care model and the benefits it provides patients and families, as well as the overall health system,” said Dr. Joshua Tepper, president of North York General Hospital.
Premier Doug Ford promised during the 2018 provincial election to bring an end to hallway health care, but did not set a deadline at the time.
He boasted at the annual premier’s conference in Saskatoon last summer that it would be done within a year but Elliott later walked that back, saying the effort is complex and will take time.
Opposition parties have warned the government is not increasing hospital funding at a rate fast enough to keep pace with Ontario’s growing and aging population, with the independent provincial Financial Accountability Office saying thousands more nursing home beds will be needed to put a dent in hallway health care and to keep nursing home waiting lists from growing larger.
The Ontario Hospital Association recently called for a $922 million cash injection in Finance Minister Rod Phillips’ upcoming spring budget to ease overcrowding and build nursing home beds faster, noting the number of hospital beds in the province has remained static at around 30,000 over the last two decades while the population has grown by 3 million — including 1 million more seniors.
That has left Ontario with fewer acute-care beds per thousand people than any other province and tied with Mexico, hospital association chief executive Anthony Dale said at pre-budget hearings in January.
“You can’t expect to end hallway health care and keep asking hospitals to cut their expenditures and become more efficient given what the data shows. Our backs are against the wall here.”
The government has increased health-care spending by $1.9 billion since taking office and has promised to create another 15,000 nursing home beds by 2023, the year after the next provincial election.
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A long wait list for nursing home beds has also fuelled backlogs in hospitals with patients who no longer need acute care but have nowhere else to go.
About 8,000 of the promised 15,000 new nursing home beds have been approved so far, but only 21 beds were opened last year, a period that saw the waiting list grow by more than 2,000.
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