An increase of more than $800,000 in Sault Area Hospital’s electricity bill at the same time the province has frozen hospital funding is putting patient care in jeopardy, says NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
Documents obtained by the NDP through the Freedom of Information Act show SAH’s electricity consumption has remained the same between 2011 and 2015, while the cost of that electricity has gone up 45 per cent — from $1.8 million annually to almost $2.7 million.
Horwath is in the Sault today to address SAH cuts as part of a campaign stop with Joe Krmpotich, NDP candidate in the yet-to-be-called by-election for the Sault Ste. Marie riding.
The increase in electricity costs have had an effect of the level of care offered at the hospital, said Horwath.
“Here we have a situation where there’s almost a million dollar increase in costs at the same time as a freeze in funding. There’s only one thing a hospital can do is cut — and that is what they have been doing,” said Horwath.
“The pressure from skyrocketing hydro bills and frozen hospital budgets has already led to frontline workers being laid off, and longer wait times for diagnostic tests like MRIs or CT scans,” she said.
Horwath said she has heard estimates that as many as 300 SAH workers have been laid off.
In an emailed response to SooToday questions, a spokesperson for SAH acknowledged the increase.
"SAH has not made decisions directly tied to the increase in electricity rates. There are no planned layoffs of frontline staff at Sault Area Hospital," said Brandy Sharp Young, Sault Area Hospital's communications and volunteer resources manager.
The issue of electricity costs affects all Ontario hospitals, said Sharp Young.
"SAH is challenged annually to find efficiency improvements in our operations due to many factors such as the impacts of health system funding reform, zero to minimal increases in hospital funding over the last several years, compensation increases and increasing electrical rates," she said.
SAH is working advocating with other hospitals in the province and the Ontario Hospital Association for the province to address cost pressures, said Sharp Young.
"Sault Area Hospital is working collaboratively with other Ontario Hospitals and the Ontario Hospital Association to advocate for a provincial approach to address the cost pressures facing health care in Ontario," she said.
The effects of rising electricity costs are being felt by hospital staff, said Krmpotich.
“They are health care. It’s very important they are staffed to the appropriate levels and that the funding is there for them," said Krmpotich.
He added, “we certainly don’t want to see cutbacks in staff that are going to impact the health and well-being of our families.”
Glenda Hubbley, a Registered Nurse at the hospital and president of the Ontario Nurses Association local in Sault Ste. Marie, said nursing hours have been lost in the imaging diagnostics unit.
“We just want to provide the best care possible, but it’s getting harder and harder to do that,” said Hubbley in an NDP press release.
The province’s plan to reduce electricity rates by 25 per cent applies to residents, some businesses and farms — but Horwath said it is unclear how institutions like hospitals or schools will be affected.
Last month, the NDP released their plan to reduce electricity costs in the province by 30 per cent.
“Our plan is pretty clear, the Liberals though — we don’t have any paper yet, not a scrap of paper that says what their plan actually is,” said Horwath.
The plan also includes stopping the privitization of assets, like HydroOne.
“All of this privitization of our electricity system over the last 20 years is what is creating the lack of competitiveness we now have,” said Horwath.
Deregulation of the province's electricity system began under the Ontario PC Mike Harris government.
“Quebec and Manitoba didn’t privatize any of their systems and they are charging less than half of what we are,” said Horwath.
PC candidate Ross Romano observed today's press conference and noted the NDP supported the Green Energy Act, which he dubbed the Bad Contracts Act.
“They are just as responsible as the Liberals are for this hydro mess we’re in now,” said Romano.
Horwath said green energy was not the problem, it was the contracts negotiated by the Liberal government.
“We certainly support the act because we believe it’s important to bring renewables put on to the grid and get rid of the complete dependance on fossil fuels," said Horwath.