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Southlake defends bill to transition patients to alternate care

Newmarket hospital CEO, chief of staff among Ontario hospitals officials who have endorsed an open letter on Bill 7, saying moving patients to long-term care homes will be handled with compassion
USED Southlake sign 1 KC
Southlake Regional Health Centre

Southlake Regional Health Centre has joined a group of Ontario hospital officials in defending the province's controversial Bill 7 that aims to address health-care system strain by more quickly transitioning patients to alternative care. 

In an open letter, health-care officials from across the province’s largest hospitals spoke to the More Beds, Better Care Act. They noted the strain the health-care system is facing and the approximately 16 per cent of hospital beds filled by patients designated for alternate levels of care, who no longer need to be in the hospital. The letter is signed by Southlake president and CEO Arden Krystal and chief of staff Charmaine van Schaik, among others.

The bill allows for patients to be moved to long-term care homes with availability even if they are not a preferred or listed choice, or pay for the ongoing hospital stay. But in the letter, the hospitals said they would handle transitions with care.

“A hospital is not a place to live and is not an appropriate or ideal environment for a patient once they no longer need specialized services,” the letter said. “As these changes are put into place, all decisions we make around this implementation will be done with compassion, collaboration, ethical and equitable consideration, and a patient’s best interests at heart.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government passed the bill Aug. 31. It first announced the legislation as part of a variety of measures the province said it would implement to address challenges in the health-care system. But the bill has garnered criticism, with concerns it would override patient rights by forcing them into long-term care homes without their consent.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association is among those speaking in opposition to the legislation.

“Bill 7 does nothing to address the root causes of our hospital crisis in Ontario, which is a crisis of nurse and health-care staffing; it simply forces patients from one understaffed environment to another,” ONA president Cathryn Hoy said in a news release. “Even more concerning, Bill 7 threatens patients’ basic rights to freedom of choice and could result in vulnerable seniors being moved far from family and supports they rely on.”

But Southlake and other hospitals said the patients waiting too long in beds are burdening the system, and contributing to the longer wait times. The letter said staff work with patients to organize transitions and ensure they work well. 

“We encourage patients and their loved ones to make informed choices on which homes they wish to go to. We also encourage patients to maximize the potential for transitioning to a place where they feel most comfortable by selecting several options,” the letter said.

Hospitals are not the best place to care for patients in need of a long-term care stay, the letter said, noting hospitals are not built for recreational or social engagement.

There are other efforts underway to improve the system, the letter said. It added new long-term care spaces are getting built, and acute care beds getting added.

“There is not an overnight fix,” the letter said. “We are looking to the future, but we also need immediate solutions to ease the strain and improve health care right now.”