Physio patients feeling stranded

End of TEGH’s free clinic means some users will pay full treatment cost

East York resident Salza Khakoo is waiting for knee replacement surgery and currently qualifies for free pre-op physiotherapy at Toronto East General Hospital.

However, that will end April 1 when the hospital closes its outpatient physio clinic.

“I got a letter saying that physio would no longer be offered and a list of OHIP clinics, which I don’t qualify for,” said Khakoo at a March 9 community meeting on the issue. “I can’t work anymore because of knee issues.”

Khakoo currently receives two hours of physiotherapy a week for her knee at the hospital and is on a wait list for knee surgery. She doesn’t have health coverage for physiotherapy and also doesn’t qualify for physio under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

The provincial government de-listed physiotherapy from publicly funded medical services under OHIP in 2005 and only pays for physio in specific circumstances including if the person is under 20, over 65, on welfare, living in a long term care facility.

Toronto East General continued offered free physio for some of its outpatients including Khakoo even though she doesn’t fall within any of the OHIP requirements.

And she’s not alone. Maria Meszaros-Nefsky, who is self-employed without health insurance and doesn’t qualify for OHIP physio coverage, had a bad fall last November and was bed-ridden for three months. Without the physio treatment she may not have been able to go back to work part-time, she said.

“I may only be covered for another three weeks but my condition will be with me much longer,” she said.

The union representing the hospital’s physiotherapists says that over half of the physio patients don’t qualify for treatment in an OHIP clinic so they would have to pay the full costs of both assessments and treatments.

Those who qualify for OHIP coverage would have qualifying treatments paid for but would pony up for an assessment fee.

Hospital physiotherapist Damian Wyard said this public service is being outsourced to private clinics.

“How can Toronto East General Hospital’s fracture clinic see 100 people per day but tell people they are on their own for rehabilitation?” he said.

Physio is no longer a government funded medical expense except in some circumstances, says hospital CEO and president Rob Devitt.
“What’s covered by OHIP and what’s not is a government decision,” he said.

Toronto East General doesn’t receive government funding to provide this outpatient physio and by closing the clinic, the hospital will save $300,000 a year.

“We don’t directly tie one dollar saved to a dollar spent (specifically) here,” he said, adding the money saved will go into the overall budget. “For a few years we had some (extra) room in our budget. That’s shrinking with an ever-increasing demand for core services,” like emergencies, child and adolescent mental health, hip and knee replacements.

Devitt was not at the community meeting organized by the union but politicians, including MPPs Michael Prue and Peter Tabuns and councillor Janet Davis were present.

Prue said when he broke his arm in January 2009 in a fishing accident in Mexico was treated at Toronto East and benefited from rehab. In his case, he had health insurance for 10 treatments and paid out of pocket for another 10 physio sessions at clinics outside the hospital.

He urged the community to fight the hospital clinic closure by putting pressure on the provincial Liberals.

In an interview, Davis said she’ll take up the issue with hospital president Devitt.

I am curious if there any other alternatives to keep this service open,” she said. “I understand the financial pressures of the hospital.”

About this article:

By: Kris Scheuer
Posted: Mar 17 2010 10:45 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto