In mid-April, the Province of Ontario announced that hospitals could resume non-emergency surgeries – sometimes referred to as elective surgeries – after a moratorium imposed in March to free up beds for COVID-19 patients. Affected surgeries included cancer and heart operations, organ transplants, and hip replacements. Unfortunately, due largely to issues that predate COVID-19 and are familiar to medical malpractice lawyers, many of the province’s hospitals have been unable to resume these important procedures.

According to the province’s new rules, hospitals are only able to resume elective surgeries under specific conditions. Their occupancy rate must be at or below 85 per cent, and they must have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). As medical malpractice lawyers know, occupancy rates of well above 85 per cent have been common in Ontario since before the pandemic took hold.

According to Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, a “large minority” of the province’s hospitals don’t qualify to resume elective procedures.

“I know of hospitals already approaching 100 per cent occupancy,” Dale told CBC News Toronto.

“Clearly this is a risky situation,” he continued. “We have to be serious about the fact that the second wave [of the pandemic] is coming and we need to be prepared.”

Hospital overcrowding has been a major concern for health experts and medical malpractice lawyers for years. There is significant evidence that overcrowding increases the risk of medical errors and leads to negative patient outcomes.

Much of the province’s overcrowding issue is attributable to patients designated as “alternate level of care” – individuals that no longer need acute care hospital beds but who have nowhere else to go. Prior to COVID-19, there were roughly 5,200 such patients in the provincial healthcare system. Around 1,200 were moved in April; most of those empty beds have now been re-occupied by similar patients.

Said Dale: “It’s a terrible dysfunction in our system and it risks being a deadly one if and when the pandemic surges again. We have to wake up right now and prepare for that and take it seriously.”

Dale is calling on the province to redouble its efforts to obtain PPE and find space for alternate level of care patients. While that happens, there is a very real risk that patients in need of medical attention will slip through the cracks as healthcare workers continue to battle the pandemic. For medical malpractice lawyers, the focus will be on providing legal advice to individuals who believe they have been affected by medical negligence.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a medical setting, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team will review your case, assess your options, and provide guidance and advice on your road to recovery.

 

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Greg Neinstein