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Leaked memo shows London Health Sciences Centre has begun closing 49 beds

London Health Sciences Centre's Victoria Hospital in September 2017.
London Health Sciences Centre's Victoria Hospital in September 2017. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The London Health Sciences Centre has begun a process to close 49 beds across the hospital network as it looks to erase a major budget deficit.

An internal memo leaked to 980 CFPL states that the closures began Oct. 1 and that it’s part of a “staged approach based on occupancy.”

In tandem with the bed closures, the memo cites three LHSC initiatives: to standardize access and flow to decrease variability in practices and to improve patient outcomes and experiences, to invest in transitional models of care in partnership with the community, and to optimize planning to decrease overall patient length of stay.

“This bed closure builds on decreasing the overall patient length of stay in acute care services,” the memo reads.

“This capacity planning will be offset in flu season by temporarily opening 20 surge beds with funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. In addition, we are working with partners to secure transitional bed capacity outside of LHSC to balance many of the bed closures.”

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The closures include medical and surgical beds at both Victoria and University campuses, and exclude mental health beds, said Julie Trpkovski, LHSC’s executive vice president of clinical services, who confirmed the memo and the closures to 980 CFPL.

“We are closing 49 beds because we’ve identified that opportunity through some of our data analysis and we are looking at doing that in a staged approach,” Trpkovski said. Eleven surgical beds in the burns and plastic surgery unit at the Victoria campus have already closed as part of the plan.

Trpkovski said the bed closures come as part of a larger three-year-long “financial recovery plan,” aimed at addressing a massive deficit.

In early June, LHSC said it ended the 2018/2019 fiscal year with a $24 million deficit and would need to find additional savings of approximately $28 million for 2019/2020, or two per cent of its $1.2 billion budget.

Some savings, the hospital said at the time, would be achieved through staff hour cuts — the equivalent of 165 full-time positions, or 1.6 per cent of its total workforce — and a temporary hiring freeze for non-clinical staff.

READ MORE: London MPP raising concerns about overcrowding in Ontario hospitals

 

Trpkovski said the hospital has examined other jurisdictions, other hospitals, and its own historical data, looking at how long patients are expected to stay in the system compared to how long they actually stay.

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“The first and foremost message we want our patients, our families, and our community to know that patients are top priority for LHSC and they will continue to be a top priority,” Trpkovski said.

“Currently we’re a system in crisis, so if we do nothing we’ll continue to be a system in crisis, and we think this plan really focuses on the areas we need to focus on to drive improvement.”

While Ontario hospitals did receive an extra 2.05 per cent, or $384 million, in the most recent provincial budget, it was less than the 3.45 per cent the Ontario Hospital Association said was necessary to deal with current hospital needs.

LHSC is also looking at other ways to find savings, such as system efficiencies, Trpkovski said.

“We’ve received a signal from government that government would like the health care system to work differently, to work more collaboratively, to build better systems for patients, and LHSC intends to be a partner within that system,” Trpkovski said.

Part of that, she says, includes looking at transitional care models — helping patients move from acute care, to the community, and then home — and working with community partners to build bed capacity outside of the hospital network.

“This is a plan that’s built on collaboration and partnership, and I think that’s one of the things we need to remember here,” Trpkovski said. “This isn’t LHSC just making changes, this is LHSC trying to work differently.”

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READ MORE: LHSC announces major budget deficit

Peter Bergmanis, chair of the London Health Coalition, was critical of the move, saying they should be announcing more beds.

“We’re dealing with the most overcrowded hospital in Ontario. We already have wait times that are going through the roof, we have overcrowded emergency departments, and bed flow and patient flow is all at the root of it,” he said.

“After ten years of austerity coming from the provincial Liberal government, the Ford government now is continuing on the same path. They did provide mild relief with a slight uptick, but all-in-all, after ten years, that little amount of money is actually not even making up for the cost of inflation and actual cost of what we need for the community services.”

Click to play video 'Thousands rally to protest Ontario heath care Changes' Thousands rally to protest Ontario heath care Changes
Thousands rally to protest Ontario heath care Changes

Bergmanis believes patient care will be impacted as he argues they’ll be served by less people under high pressure conditions.

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“This is not a good time to be in healthcare,” he said.

You can hear the full interview with London Health Coalition chair Peter Bergmanis on Friday morning on The Craig Needles Show.