In December 2015, the Province of Ontario appointed former Conservative Party deputy leader Christine Elliott as the province’s first Patient Ombudsman. The move was hailed by advocates and hospital error lawyers as an important step toward improving safety for Ontario’s hospital patients. Now, nearly a year into her term, Elliott has identified a number of key areas of concern in the province’s healthcare system, including ‘inappropriate discharges.’

According to the Globe and Mail, approximately ’60 per cent of the more than 1,500 complaints’ received by Elliott’s office concern ‘subpar communication from officials in the hospital, long-term care and home-care sectors.’

“We have heard of situations where people do feel pressured to make decisions [about leaving hospital] and really don’t feel that they’re being treated as an individual or a human being – that they’re just a number and a bed blocker and they need to be moving out,” Elliott told the paper.

Alternate level of care (ALC) patients – whose impact on patient safety and hospital error lawyers we have discussed before – are central to this issue. Despite the fact that they do not require acute care, these patients occupy hospital beds while awaiting transfer to long-term care units, retirement homes, rehabilitation facilities, or home care.

“I don’t think there are any hospitals trying to do bad things. The challenge is they are in the business of providing acute care,” Samir Sinha, Ontario’s seniors strategy leader, told the Globe. “But when 15 per cent of their beds on a daily basis are actually occupied by people that they can’t help transition to a more appropriate setting, it creates stress on the system, it creates stress on the providers and it creates stress on the families who are caught in the middle.”

High ALC rates also result in prolonged exposure to infection, force hospital workers to treat patients in hallways, and contribute to several other factors that hospital error lawyers might consider medical malpractice.

As Ontario’s population ages, hospitals are likely to see a surge in ALC patients. More than 50 per cent of the beds in some of the province’s small rural hospitals have been occupied by ALC patients between 2011 and 2016. Atikoken General Hospital, north-west of Thunder Bay, has experienced an average ALC rate of almost 65 per cent.

If you or a member of your family has experienced damages as a result of overcrowded hospitals or an inappropriate discharge, contact the hospital error lawyers at Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Group today to learn how our team can help you access compensation.


Photo credit: Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana/Wikimedia Commons

Greg Neinstein