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ONTARIO REBUFFS HOSPITALS' PLEA TO HIKE FUNDING

Ontario's hospitals want an extra $857 million for increased staff costs and another $5 billion in capital costs for old buildings, but Ontario Health Minister Evelyn Gigantes says they need to be more innovative.

Duncan McAlpine, chairman of the Ontario Health Association, told the government that the association needs a 13.2 percent increase from this year's budget of $6.5 billion or more beds will be closed and programs cut. He said staff costs, which account for 75 percent of the association budget, were the main reason for needing more money.

McAlpine warned of possible labor problems early next year without the extra money, saying contracts with the Ontario Nurses Association and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union both expire in March, the same time as the hospitals' fiscal year ends.

The province's pay equity law (raising salaries paid to female workers to equal those of male colleagues in similar jobs) also was eating up scarce financial resources, he said. Without increased funding, he said, "There'll be bed closures and longer lineups."

Despite a 9.7 percent budget increase last year, 800 beds were permanently closed, McAlpine said.

Ontario Premier Bob Rae's reaction was less than enthusiastic. "I'm not going to write a check on the spot," he said.

"Everyone has the sense they're being underfunded, that their needs are enormous," he added. "Nobody gets everything they ask for. Everybody has to realize there are limits on what the government can do."

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