December 11, 2018

Ahead of the flu season,  Ontario Premier Doug Ford designated an additional $90 million as a first step in addressing the province’s growing “hallway medicine” concerns.

The overcrowding in hospitals forces health-care professionals to rely on the hallways of buildings to manage the high number of patients. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott hopes that the money, intended to fund an extra 1,100 beds, will help defuse the issue during the flu season.

Though the funding may alleviate pressures on hospitals during the flu season, it is only a temporary solution for a larger problem, according to health-care workers. Many Ontario patients, they say, will continue waiting for their health care.

“I spent about seven-eight hours in the emergency room with my 90-year-old grandmother after she had a bad fall,” said Cambridge resident David Craig. “No blame for the staff — they did everything possible. Just too many patients and not enough beds. I believe after she was admitted it took another three to five hours for a room to be available for her. She was in the hallway up until then.”

Jessica Towriss, Kincardine resident, says that every time she has gone to the hospital, she waits between four and six hours before she is seen by a doctor.

“One time I had to go to the emergency room because I was in a lot of pain,” she said. “I ended up being put in one of those rooms where you wait for the doctor and I waited there for six hours, even when the hospital emergency room wasn’t that busy. It seemed like they completely forgot me, because no one came to check on me once. It was an awful experience.”

Ontario has the fewest hospital beds per capita in Canada and is third from the bottom of the entire OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). On average, patients who are admitted to the hospital can expect a wait time of 16.3 hours. For patients who are admitted, only 35 per cent receive their care in the target of fewer than eight hours. 

Dr. Steven Friedman, a full-time emergency physician at University Health Network at the University of Toronto, said that more hospital staff and infrastructure is needed to relieve hospital gridlock.

From the perspective of an ER doc in Toronto, there is certainly the need for more doctors (as well as more infrastructure). The Canadian population is growing, particularly in urban centres. Also, we are living longer. For example, people who might have died from heart disease in their sixties are now living decades more,” said Friedman. “And, as they live longer, their health needs become more complex.” That translates into longer hospital stays and more intense use of human resources (docs, nurses, allied health professionals) caring for them. 

Friedman also noted that the lack of primary health-care professionals puts a strain on hospitals.

Adding to challenges for an ER doc is the relative lack of primary docs, which results in patients coming to the ER for problems that might have been managed well in a family doctor’s office,” said Friedman. 

Katherine Kroner, a registered nurse at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, describes the ratio between RNs and patients as “the worst in Ontario,” often leaving patients at Grand River waiting up to eight hours.

“What happens is the public becomes very upset in emerge because they have to wait. They usually get upset at the nurse, like it is their fault. At Grand River, after 11 p.m. they go down to just one doctor,” said Kroner.

Though Kroner believes hospitals are understaffed, she said that more people need to be aware of what a true emergency is.

“I think there needs to be public awareness about what is truly an emergency,” said Kroner. “One emerge visit costs tax-payers $450. Is it really an emergency? Or can it wait till the next day to see a family doctor, where the visit will only cost $30?”

The Ford government has promised 6,000 new long-term care beds to represent the first wave of more than 15,000 new long-term care beds that the government has committed to building over the next five years.

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