If you’ve waited hours in an Ontario ER to see a doctor or to be hospitalized, you may not have not known the reason for the long wait.
The major reason for the perennially extended wait is the onset of COVID-19 in Ontario which is now being exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact on the system, its employees, and its patients.
Ontario health care workers say long-term system changes are the key to relieving ER pressure. “Ontario is now paying for 20 years of no long-term health care planning,” said Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale.
“If you don’t plan, you have really no way to go anyplace,” stated Dale.
Patients spend a record average of 20 hours in Ontario ERs before being admitted because hospital wards are running at or over full capacity, causing a bottleneck in getting out of the ER.
Why are Ontario’s hospitals full? Hospitals are catching up on surgical operations postponed during the pandemic. Moreover: Ontario hospitals report record-high numbers of ready-to-be-discharged patients, but nowhere to send them.
The latest increase in ER long waits is likely due to more doctors and nurses calling in sick due to COVID-19. Summer’s slower viral spread may help, at least temporarily.
Long-term, solving the health system’s staffing crunch is a bigger challenge. Ontario has fewer nurses per capita than any other Canadian province. 1.3 million Ontarians don’t even have a family doctor; they’re more likely to go to the ER. The epidemic has impacted family doctor access. About 20% of the Ontario College of Family Physicians’ 15,000 members want to retire in the next five years, the organization said.
The organization wants the government to begin a recruiting campaign, streamline administrative duties like requesting testing and referrals, and assist family doctors with nurses, social workers, and mental health specialists. To reduce the pressure on emergency departments, provide more options for non-life-threatening or non-urgent treatment.
Toronto ER physician Dr. Kashif Pirzada says ERs are forced to handle much more than trauma and heart attacks.
Before COVID-19 impacted the province, the Ford administration began revamping the system by creating Ontario Health Teams to reduce hospital stays.
During the epidemic, that work was on hold. It will be a priority for Ontario’s new health minister, who was sworn in on Friday, 17 June.