Southlake defends bill to transition patients to alternate care

CEO of Newmarket Hospital, chief of staff among Ontario hospital officials who approved an open letter on Bill 7 saying the transfer of patients to long-term care homes is being handled with compassion

The Southlake Regional Health Center has joined a group of Ontario hospital officials to defend the province’s controversial Law 7, which aims to address the burden on the healthcare system by accelerating the transition of patients to alternative care.

In an open letter, healthcare officials from the province’s largest hospitals appealed to the More Beds, Better Care Act. They cited the strain on the healthcare system and the approximately 16 percent of hospital beds occupied by patients who are destined for alternative levels of care and no longer need to stay in the hospital. The letter is signed by Southlake President and CEO Arden Krystal and Chief of Staff Charmaine van Schaik, among others.

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The bill allows patients to be transferred to long-term care homes with availability even if they are not preferred or listed, or to pay for ongoing hospitalization. But in the letter, the hospitals said they would be cautious about transitions.

“A hospital is not a place to live and is not an appropriate or ideal environment for a patient when they no longer require specialized services,” the letter reads. “While these changes are being rolled out, any decisions we make related to this implementation will be made with compassion, collaboration, ethical and equitable considerations, and in a patient’s best interests.”

Ontario’s progressive conservative government passed the law on August 31. She first announced the law as part of a series of measures the province planned to implement to address health-care challenges. However, the law has been criticized over concerns it would override patients’ rights by forcing them into care homes without their consent.

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The Ontario Nurses’ Association is among those opposed to the legislation.

“Bill 7 is doing nothing to address the root causes of our Ontario hospital crisis, which is a nursing and healthcare workforce crisis; it simply forces patients from one understaffed environment to another,” ONA President Cathryn Hoy said in a press release. “Even more worrying is that Bill 7 threatens patients’ fundamental rights to choose and could result in vulnerable seniors being removed far from their families and the support they rely on.”

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

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“We encourage patients and their loved ones to make informed decisions about which home to go to. We also encourage patients to maximize the potential for transitioning to a location where they feel most comfortable by choosing multiple options,” the letter reads.

Hospitals are not the best place to care for patients who require long-term care, the letter said. Hospitals are not built for leisure activities or social engagement.

Further efforts are underway to improve the system, the letter said. New long-term care rooms are being built and acute care beds are being added.

“There is no overnight solution,” the letter said. “We’re looking to the future, but we also need immediate solutions to reduce the burden and improve healthcare now.”

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