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RELEASE & BACKGROUND: Ontario Government Responsible for Overwhelmed Hospital Emergency Departments: Critical Bed Shortages “Systemic and Pervasive”

Posted: January 10, 2017

(January 10, 2017)

Reports of critical and pervasive hospital bed shortages are streaming in from across Ontario. In Brantford, hospital officials recently reported the “emergency department is overwhelmed”. At Lakeridge Health, all four hospitals across Durham are so full that hospital managers set up an emergency “command centre”. In Ottawa and London health coalition members who work in the hospitals recently told MPPs that emergency departments are chronically filled to bursting. In Sudbury, Hamilton, and across all four hospitals in Quinte Health Care hospitals report they have been consistently running at more than 100 per cent capacity.

Hospitals are reporting that they have spent recent weeks, sometimes months, at rates of overcrowding that are extreme by any measure. Hospital officials are reporting that the same problems are occurring across the province. The hospital bed shortage is worse here in Ontario than anywhere in the country and comparable jurisdictions.

In some cases, hospital executives are citing a surge in patient volumes due to influenza and other viruses as the cause of the problem. In others, leadership is reporting the volumes and overcrowding as “the new normal”. In a number of communities, government appointees or hospital executives have warned patients to stay away from emergency departments except in cases of “serious” emergencies, leaving patients to triage themselves. The Ontario Health Coalition is disturbed by these responses to what is, in fact, a systemic shortage of hospital beds across Ontario resulting from years of hospital bed closures and nine consecutive years of real-dollar cuts to global hospital budgets by the provincial government in a bid to make hospitals downsize, cut programs and consolidate services.

“The fact is that Ontario has the fewest hospital beds left per patient of anywhere in Canada, and Canada itself is near the bottom of the entire OECD list of countries,” reported Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “The bottom line is that no other jurisdiction plans to run its hospital system perpetually skirting the edge of crisis like Ontario does. There is not enough hospital bed capacity left in Ontario to deal with normal patient volumes let alone the annual holiday and winter virus season surge, and patients and front-line staff are paying the price.”

“The problem is not patients, it is the chronic shortage of beds. It is inappropriate and irresponsible to blame sick people for using their local hospitals,” noted Sara Labelle, spokesperson for the Durham Health Coalition. “Our hospitals need proper levels of funding and we need to see that funding going to re-opening beds, expanding services and improving patient care.”

Lance Livingstone, a member of the Durham Health Coalition, joined Ms. Mehra and Ms. Labelle in a press conference in Durham this morning. He reported that his elderly mother waited for more than two days on a gurney in the emergency department at Lakeridge Hospital in Oshawa in November before finally being admitted to a ward where she had to share a room with male patients.

Click here for Backgrounder on Ontario’s Hospital Bed Shortage & Emergency Department Overcrowding