Ontario hospitals face 'unprecedented' financial pressure, need funding: OHA

·3 min read

TORONTO — Ontario's hospitals say they are facing "unprecedented" financial pressures and many of them have been forced to use lines of credit to cover COVID-19-related costs. 

The head of the association representing the province's hospitals asked the Progressive Conservative government to speed up funding that was promised before the second wave of the pandemic hit the province.

"For the hospital sector, we are spending a king's ransom to fight this pandemic," said Anthony Dale on Friday. "The hospital sector is facing unprecedented, truly unprecedented, financial pressures."

He said some hospitals are using funding previously earmarked for capital projects to pay for pandemic-response measures. Hospital resources are stretched thin, and many facilities remain at or above capacity, he said. 

In August, the province set aside billions in new funding to address COVID-19 costs in the health-care system.

Dale said, however, that while the government is aware of the fiscal pressure hospitals are facing, only COVID-19 costs from March and April have been covered so far.

If the additional funding promised by the province doesn't begin to flow soon, the facilities may eventually not be able make payroll, he said. 

"We hope that would never seriously happen in a hospital, but the reality is, at a certain point in time you hit a wall," he said. "You really lose your ability to pay for your daily operating costs ... because you don't have cash on hand."

Dale said slowing community spread of the virus is also an important part of relieving the stress on hospital resources and, in turn, cutting costs.

Premier Doug Ford said Friday that the province has allocated billions to the hospital sector and said he would reach out to the OHA to discuss the flow of funding.

But Ford also took a swipe at Dale, who has been critical of his government's handling of the pandemic in recent months.

"We're pouring money into health care and I'll give the president a call and see exactly what he's talking about because he likes sending out letters without giving us a call," he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government is "short-changing" hospitals at a time when it has received billions from the federal government to address pandemic expenses.

"The last thing hospitals should have to be doing is wondering how they're going to pay the bills," she said. "The government should not be sitting on that money."

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the financial pressure on hospitals is "frightening" at a time when they're addressing the second wave. 

"During a pandemic, in particular, during what is a public health crisis, you don't ignore the people who are running Ontario's hospitals," Del Duca said. "You listen to them, you work with them."

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner criticized the government for not getting funding into the hands of hospitals faster.

"For a government that prides itself on cutting red tape, it sure manages to tie up COVID-19 funding in layers of government bureaucracy," he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press