Canadians are fiercely proud of their healthcare system. In 2012, 94 per cent of respondents to a survey administered by the Association for Canadian Studies identified healthcare as an important source of national pride. In 2004, Tommy Douglas – the father of Canadian Medicare – was voted the country’s most admired citizen by viewers of the CBC’s Greatest Canadian television series.
But the realities of ambitious social programs sometimes fall short of their lofty aspirations. Canadians are proud of their universal healthcare, but few could defend the fact that in 2016 some of Ontario’s major hospitals are so overcrowded that patients outnumber beds.
According to documents obtained by the provincial New Democratic Party from the Ministry of Health through a Freedom of Information request, hospital overcrowding has become a major issue in Ontario. Thunder Bay’s Regional Health Sciences Centre has exceeded 100 per cent bed occupancy for half of the past two years, a situation the facility refers to as “Code Gridlock.” Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) operated over 100 per cent occupancy for a quarter in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. The London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital site recorded 10 consecutive quarters of occupancy above 100 per cent, while the Rouge Valley Health System’s Ajax and Pickering location began this year with a preliminary occupancy rate of 118.5 per cent.
For perspective, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental organization of 35 countries, calls 85 per cent occupancy a safe rate. Internationally, only Chile and Mexico have fewer available beds per capita than Ontario.
“The Liberal government has forced many of our hospitals to operate at over 100 per cent capacity,” declared Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwarth during a Question Period at Queen’s Park in May. “That means long wait times for patients in the [emergency room] because every bed in the hospital is already full. It makes it harder to control the spread of infection, and it puts pressure on cleaning staff. It means that patients end up being treated on stretchers in hallways because there is no room left in the hospital.”
“It’s not safe,” Mehra said. “It causes more violence in the hospitals, it cause more infection rates. It means there is not enough staff per patient.”
While hospital overcrowding isn’t a strictly Ontarian problem – hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon, for instances, have recently resorted to building makeshift pods in hallways to provide a modicum of patient privacy – the situation in Canada’s most populous province is particularly grim. Ontario has just 2.3 available beds per 1,000 people, significantly less than the national average of 3.5.
According to the Toronto Star, the Liberal government has committed “an additional $345 million this year as part of a $1 billion increase in healthcare funding,” but advocates are unsure the additional spending will be enough to solve hospital overcrowding issues.
When hospitals operate over capacity, patients are more open to potential hazards and receive a lesser standard of care. If hospital overcrowding has led to a serious injury for you or a member of your family, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Group today. They can help you better grasp your legal standing and advise you on your best course of action.