It’s time for city leaders to take Brampton’s healthcare crisis seriously
Hospitals are places where life begins, gets extended, or ends. They drip with emotion, and reek of humanity.
They are central in our lives:
The Mayo Clinic: Rochester, Minnesota.
Johns Hopkins Hospital: Baltimore, Maryland.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Memphis, Tennessee.
The Hospital for Sick Children: Toronto, Ontario.
Forget historic theatres and art galleries and river walks, fine restaurants and swank shopping districts, bucolic sprawling parks, arresting waterfronts, glitzy skyscrapers and state-of-the-art sporting venues, and even the grandest of museums. Many cities – like the four above – are world famous and greatly defined by a hospital, and the network of healthcare facilities that surround them.
Anyone who has ever used a hospital has an anecdote about a visit, a stayover, a recovery from this or that sickness or injury, and/or a teary-eyed reckoning about standing over a hospital bed and seeing the passing of a loved one.
Hospitals are cities within cities, the home to doctors, nurses, caregivers, volunteers, and patients. They are open day and night, and in their shadow, they spawn clinics and doctors’ offices and other facilities for our care that sit under their wing. They are often centres of urban renewal and used to attract both businesses and families. They are the soul of a city.
And then there is Brampton, the ninth largest city in Canada, and one if its fastest growing. According to 2011 and 2016 census data, its population expanded by 13 percent in just five years, far above the 4.5 percent across the rest of Ontario, and miles beyond the 1 percent in Toronto. It has doubled in size twice since the early ‘80s, to more than 600,000 residents, and is projected to reach almost a million in another 25 years.
But there’s a but.
But it is the most underserved city in the province when it comes to healthcare. It’s one and only full-service hospital, Brampton Civic, is often derided for its “hallway healthcare,” and with good reason. In 2016, an incredible 4,352 patients received care in hallways, supply closets or other inappropriate spaces. It’s also notorious for its wait times that often turn into campouts. There are simply not enough rooms to serve its burgeoning roll of patients.
These numbers bring into sharp focus the city’s need for immediate and long-term help.
But none is coming – not at the moment, anyway.
This past week, the Doug Ford government at Queen’s Park announced it was taking action to end “hallway healthcare.”
It is pouring $90 million into the problem, which includes 1,100 new beds, with hopes they will ease the burden during the flu season, and beyond. A further 15,000 beds are being added over the next five years.
Brampton won’t get a dime of the $90 million, and it’s unclear how and where the province will divvy up the 15,000 beds.
What’s known is the cities that are getting portions of the $90 million: Toronto, North Bay, Thunder Bay, and nearby Mississauga.
We applaud the Ford regime for recognizing a problem and trying to fix it. We understand that as Ontario’s population ages, and it continues to attract an outsized number of newcomers (from within Canada and through immigration), healthcare has become an increasingly complex challenge for the powers inside Queen’s Park, which determines how to provide the most fundamental need in our society, while performing a precarious financial tight-rope act without a safety net. In a province that has the largest sub-national debt in the world, projected by Ontario’s auditor general to reach $393 billion by 2020 (about $26,000 per resident), creating an annual deficit of about $12 billion, healthcare eats up more than 40 percent of the cash-strapped provincial budget.
And it’s only getting worse. Canada’s 65+ age bracket reached a significant milestone in 2015: for the first time, that number exceeded those of children under 15.
Meaning: nearly one in six Canadians – a record 6 million – are now 65 or older. Projections say the 65+ crowd will make up over 20 percent of the population by 2024, and its 3.5 percent per year growth rate is higher than any segment of the population.
Estimates conclude that Ontario’s senior population will double by 2030. When people age, they need far more healthcare. The price tag could be astronomical.
That means healthcare has to be based on numbers and need, right?
Why is the place where the term “hallway healthcare” was coined for use in the spring provincial election not getting a share of the $90 million to fix “hallway healthcare” from the province?
That’s a question The Pointer posed to our two Brampton MPPs in the Ford government: Prabmeet Sarkaria and Amarjot Sandhu. For three days, we called them, and for three days, they didn’t answer.
There is plenty of scar tissue in Brampton built up over the lack of healthcare funding for this city. William Osler is the umbrella network that oversees our care and includes Brampton Civic, Etobicoke General, and the Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness. The latter isn’t called a hospital, and closes its doors at 10 p.m. It stresses the need for preventative care, and every evening, sends patients to Brampton Civic – upping its already desperate need for more beds.
The fate of the healthcare system in Ontario is based on sustainability. With costs soaring, gaps in the primary care model – the old way of serving patients – are being addressed. Peel Memorial wants to keep sick people in their homes as long as possible. That plan, officials hope, will lead to more humane ways of late-life care, while driving down healthcare costs.
The Ford government hopes to slow down spending. It hired Dr. Rueben Devlin (former CEO of Humber River hospital) to make some fiscal sense of this ever-expanding system. Will the new regime edge towards a more privatized healthcare model, and encroach on the fundamentals of a public system?
Another question for our local MPPs.
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey is in a tight battle for re-election on October 22 against Patrick Brown, the former leader of the PC party in Ontario. When both were asked by The Pointer to comment on the latest monies released from Queen’s Park, they were tentative, and said little. Jeffrey reiterated the fact that extraordinary volumes of people are using our healthcare facilities, which just can’t keep up.
Brown was happy with the new push for healthcare improvements. At the Mayor’s debate held recently at the Rose Theatre, both were more animated, and passionate. Jeffrey reminded the audience that when she entered provincial government in 2003, Brampton’s only hospital was the aging Peel Memorial.
The new Civic (opened in 2007) and the new Peel Memorial (2017) have partially met the needs of a growing city. “But we don’t have full funding,” she said, “and future dollars [should be based] on the census.”
Brown charged that it was outrageous that a city of 600,000 gets 1 bed per 1,000 citizens, far below the provincial average of 2.3. “It’s not good enough,” he said. “We have the worst healthcare in the province.”
John Sprovieri, also in the mix for mayor, and the retiring Ward 9&10 regional councillor, called the new Peel Memorial “a drop-in centre.” He thinks Brampton should get aggressive by putting a governor on future growth by leveraging Queen's Park and pulling all building permits until the province pours more money toward the city’s healthcare needs.
Patients travel great distances to visit the Mayo Clinic. Parents of ill children come from all over the province to use the Hospital for Sick Children (also known as SickKids) in Toronto. But no one travels great distances to use Brampton’s healthcare facilities, and if they do, they’re apt to get stuck in long wait lines or lay in a bed in a hallway awaiting care.
The Osler board is well aware of the $90 million just released by Queen’s Park, and the fact none of it came to Brampton. Yet, it remains notably silent. One board member reached by The Pointer, declined to comment on the record.
Some key questions need answers when it comes to our healthcare. Is the province all-in for funding Phase II of Peel Memorial? Do the census numbers drive the targeting of healthcare funding or is it based on political considerations, and is Brampton, where city council has consistently failed to budget for its expected share of healthcare funding, in line for a second full-service hospital (while cities such as Oakville and Vaughan that did provide their own sizeable funds, reap the benefits for their residents)?
So far Brampton’s two Conservative MPPs don’t seem to be asking those questions, while they refuse to answer ours. It’s unclear what the three new NDP MPPs are doing.
Do the front-runners to be the mayor have enough street cred with the premier to twist his arm and get needed beds for Brampton Civic?
Jeffrey was a cabinet minister in a previous Kathleen Wynne government. Ford just squashed her latest government in the June provincial election. Voters used it to throw out the Liberals, with whom Jeffrey is still closely associated, for their disastrous financial stewardship over the past decade-and-a-half. As punishment, the public relegated them to non-official party status, without access to funding for official parties.
Brown is former top-dog of the PC party in Ontario, and Ford has stated, he is not a fan.
Being known as the home of “Hallway Healthcare” is an awful snub, and does great harm to Brampton’s future growth. Why would a business or a family want to settle or remain in a city where patients are funneled to an overcrowded facility, or another that closes up at night?
Hospitals can get indelibly imprinted into the collective consciousness of a community.
For years, Peel Memorial had a great name, and served this city well. People were born there, received treatment to make them well, while others died in humane conditions that provided peace to family members, who will always remember the care. It was an iconic structure that united two communities – Brampton and Bramalea – and made us one.
But ever since Brampton Civic opened in 2007, its name has been dragged through the muck. By 2008, it needed a fixer, and Ken White, former CEO of Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, was tapped by the Health Ministry to clean up the mess. First came charges of patient-care foul-ups. Three top executives resigned. There were street protests and negative media. The startling costs of the facility (as high as $1 billion) caused some to question how the city could come up with its share of the project.
But what irked critics and families most, was the shorter bed count than what was promised.
White remodeled the management structure, and brought in new staff with better training, and a Central West LHIN Task Force held public forums to listen to suggestions from the public. These were often loud and fractious.
The opening of a new hospital and the closing of an old one seemed to leave residents of Brampton uncertain about the future.
Plus, the province always had control of healthcare dollars.
Fixing the Civic’s overcrowding was left to advocates who were supposed to look for more funding. So far, those advocates have been either ineffective or virtually silent. They include two mayors and a few city councils comprised mostly of veteran members who became fixtures in their seats, our MPPs at Queen’s Park, the Osler board, and even the local LHIN.
We need a united front and a clear-eyed vision of the future so we can respond to the Ford regime. We need to know if future monies will be allotted based on numbers and need.
The PCs want to rein in healthcare costs, but Brampton is growing so fast, under growth targets for the Region of Peel set by Queen’s Park, that we keep exceeding our needs. Putting patients in hallways is a Third World solution, or a segment from M*A*S*H.
Finishing off Peel Memorial will be helpful. Perhaps building another full-service hospital is a dream.
Meanwhile, the moniker “Hallway Healthcare” clings to Brampton Civic like a pathogen. It gives our city a bad name. We need to do better. We need a hospital that makes us feel good. Maybe we won’t become a beacon for those with the most serious maladies and their families, another Rochester, Minnesota, but we can have a hospital that makes us proud, that comforts Brampton families when loved ones are at their most vulnerable.
Bramptonians pay taxes just like all other citizens in the province. We deserve a hospital that defines our city as a safe, compassionate place to live, where residents, like those across Canada, enjoy the benefits of an institution that, perhaps more than any other, helps make ours the greatest country in the world.
It’s time to make Brampton residents feel like their health is being cared for.
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