Getting health care in all the wrong places


A BATHROOM IS NO PLACE TO TREAT A PATIENT. But kitchens, conference rooms hallways and even bathrooms are where treatment happens in more and more Ontario hospitals these days. It’s clear proof that more people need care than hospital emergency rooms can handle. The Ford government keeps promising to fix it. But doesn’t.

“We are given promises but no measurable improved health care results,” says Dorothy Klein, a nurse and co-chair of the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition. Klein called on elected representative to actually listen to what they are told about the healthcare crisis and to take action as a result of what they hear.

The Coalition wants to see more investment in hospitals, an end to “hallway medicine,” a boost in funding for long-term care facilities, and proper planning for future healthcare needs. “It is time to rebuild our public health care, to re-establish sound planning, to build capacity and to restore compassion," says Klein.

A province-wide problem

Klein is a nurse at Health Sciences North in Sudbury. It was overcrowded on all but 13 out of 181 days during the first half of 2019. But other hospitals had it even worse.

CBC found in a recent investigation that Richmond Hill Hospital was overcrowded on all but four out of 181 days, followed closely by Peterborough Regional Health Centre which was overcrowded for all but five days.

In addition, five hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, and the main hospitals in Hamilton, Peterborough, and Niagara were at 100 percent capacity on at least 160 out of 181 days (83% of the time) during the first half of 2019.

Overall, the CBC analysis showed that 83 out of Ontario’s 169 acute care facilities, or almost half, were full to capacity on at least 30 out of 181 days. 39 hospitals were running at 120 percent capacity for at least one day.

Overcrowding is the ‘new normal’

In its report, the CBC said new data show the provincewide extent of the “hallway medicine” problem and that hospital gridlock — a phenomenon that used to be restricted to surges in patients during flu season — is the “new normal.”

So normal, the healthcare bureaucracy has invented the term “unconventional spaces” to describe the practice of placing patients in odd locations, like hallways, bathrooms, and kitchens.

“We try to fill every nook and cranny because the risk of having 40 or 50 admitted patients standing in our emergency department is even greater than filling those spaces,” explained Arden Krystal, chief executive of Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, which ran at 110 percent capacity during the first half of 2019.

At Health Sciences North, authorities were reportedly on the verge of calling a “code orange” emergency last May. Code orange is usually reserved for a disaster situation and means that the hospital is unable to treat the next patient who comes through the door.

Real possibilities for immediate action

“The Ford government is blaming previous governments for the hospital crisis even though it set hospital funding in this current year’s budget at a rate that does not even meet hospital inflation and population growth,” said health Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra.

“In several cities and towns across Ontario over the last year we have seen significant hospital bed and staff cuts. These are happening now, even after the election promise to end hallway medicine.”

Mehra stresses that there are many things the government could fund to immediately improve the healthcare system. “The province can open hospital wards and floors that have been closed as a result of funding cuts and austerity,” she said.

“They can open operating rooms that are closed or underused in hospitals in major towns as a result of inadequate funding. They can start to do this right away. They can improve funding, which is the lowest in the country, right away.”

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