The province has announced plans to disburse millions in funding to eight hospitals across southwestern Ontario, including nearly $15 million to London Health Sciences Centre, in a bid to reimburse them for increased costs and lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement from Lambton–Kent–Middlesex PC MPP Monte McNaughton comes two years to the day since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and three months shy of the upcoming provincial election.
The Ford government says the $27 million in funding announced Friday, part of a larger $572-million pool for hospitals across Ontario, will provide “financial stability and support continued access to high-quality patient care” when and where it’s needed.
The pool itself is part of an even larger $1.2 billion in funding allocated to Ontario hospitals in March of 2021.
“We’ve been working with hospitals over the last number of months, really to determine, by hospital, how much money they need,” McNaughton said.
Previously consistent revenue sources in the past for hospitals, such as retail operations and parking, have been cut significantly at the pandemic.
“We really stepped up with $27 million for local hospitals to fill in some of the gaps.”
LHSC will receive $14.9 million as part of the announcement, while St. Joseph’s Health Care London (SJHCL) will see $2.46 million. Elsewhere in the London region, Strathroy Middlesex General will receive $471,343 while Four Counties Health Services will see $112,948.
LHSC’s president and CEO, Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor, who joined McNaughton at the announcement, said the funding would be used to support service delivery changes the organization has had to make during the pandemic.
“Things like our laboratory services, things like our ICU beds, and the equipment to treat the most sickest patients during the time of the pandemic,” she said.
“I think we’re going to be very thoughtfully assessing the full costs and working with government to support that gap that we couldn’t have predicted, no one could have predicted, at the start of the pandemic.”
In a statement, St. Joseph’s Health Care London CFO Lori Higgs said critical alternative revenue streams, such as cafeteria sales, co-payments for private patient rooms and leased spaces, have taken a hit during the pandemic.
“We appreciate the support of the Ministry of Health in providing the funding to address these shortfalls and ensure the ongoing care of our patients and residents,” said Higgs, who is also vice-president of clinical support at St. Joseph’s.
Following the announcement, Schleifer Taylor was asked whether any funding was expected to address the region’s large pandemic-caused surgical backlog, which numbered more than 7,000 procedures as of late January.
During a media briefing on Jan. 31, Dr. Adam Dukelow, LHSC’s chief medical officer, estimated it could take several years for the backlog to be cleared.
“We are actually having tremendous support with advancing the surgical needs that have been unmet,” she said.
“We’re actually in a recovery stage, and not only receiving funds, but support to progress through those surgeries in very innovative ways, like day surgeries, for example. And that’s being very thoughtfully executed with government.”
Speaking with Global News, New Democrat health critic France Gélinas said the funding announcement comes weeks before the end of the fiscal year for hospitals, whom she notes aren’t allowed to end a fiscal calendar with a deficit.
“This is expenses already incurred during the last fiscal year, which is April 2021 to March 2022. Those are expenses that have already been incurred, that have already been billed to the government, and the government finally is paying them back,” she said.
“Is this going to help us going forward? No, absolutely not.”
Many of the problems that have been plaguing Ontario’s health care system during the pandemic were problems for years before COVID-19 arrived in 2020, she says.
“There isn’t a plan to make sure that we address the backlog that was there before, we address the overcapacity in our hospitals that was there before, that we address the new waitlists that have built up through COVID,” Gelinas said.
“I’m glad they’re getting the money that is owed to them, but that doesn’t help in the future.”
The following hospital systems are receiving funding as part of Friday’s announcement:
- Chatham-Kent Health Alliance ($2,303,679)
- Erie Shores Healthcare ($630,302)
- Four Counties Health Services ($112,948)
- Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare ($1,091,056)
- London Health Sciences Centre ($14,902,189)
- Strathroy Middlesex General ($471,343)
- St. Joseph’s Health Care London ($2,463,329)
- Windsor Regional Hospital ($5,322,882.00)