Dec 16, 2021 in News --> Legal News
In early December, Healthy Debate published an article by emergency physician and freelance journalist Catherine Varner on the ‘crisis’ taking place in Ontario’s emergency and acute care departments. Varner is also the publication’s Deputy Editor. The article includes first-hand accounts of rampant overcrowding and the provision of care in non-traditional places (hallways, ambulances, etc.) in Ontario hospitals, particularly in ‘non-urban regions.’
For many Ontarians, Varner’s report may be shocking. For healthcare professionals and medical malpractice lawyers, who keep a close eye on the quality of care being administered in Ontario, the report will come as no surprise. Even before COVID-19 took root in the province, Ontario’s hospital system was strained by underfunding and an aging population. Successive waves of COVID infections made the situation far more dire.
One southwestern Ontario emergency physician Varner spoke to said they had recently started treating patients in ambulances for the first time in their decade-long career.
“I got in the rig to see a patient because the EMS stretchers could not fit in our department,” the doctor explained. “If this person had needed immediate resuscitation, it would have been in our triage bay, but there was already someone on that stretcher. There were no spots to see people anywhere.”
Another southwestern Ontario emergency physician with decades of experience, Andrea Unger, told Varner: “Our ER has been reduced from 30 acute care stretchers to see 100 patients per day down to 10 because the other stretchers are filled with 20 people waiting to be admitted. We have seen a 100-per-cent increase in length of time people are waiting in the waiting room (before the pandemic), and patients frequently exceed the number of chairs in the waiting room.”
Emergency and acute care departments are in the eye of a perfect storm. The pandemic caused a massive hole in the healthcare workforce as medical professionals burned out and ditched the profession. The province is now having trouble recruiting or retaining staff, meaning fewer doctors and nurses in already-overcrowded hospitals as the province braces for yet another wave of COVID infections disproportionately affecting a rapidly aging population. To make matters worse, part of the reason for the overcrowding in emergency departments is that too many hospital beds are occupied by patients awaiting transfer to the long-term care system, which is also underfunded and was uniquely devastated by the pandemic.
The situation has been decades in the making, particularly in rural communities, said Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, to Varner.
“We are looking at a 20-year-periond where the needs of rural and northern communities, with respect to hospital services, have been more or less overlooked. Now the pandemic has revealed to all, not just rural and northern communities, the system is extremely fragile everywhere.”
What does this all mean from a medical malpractice perspective? We have known for years that overcrowding leads to a higher instance of medical errors and adverse outcomes; if the province isn’t able to address the pressures facing its healthcare system, Ontario medical malpractice lawyers believe they will see an influx in claims for negligent and substandard care.
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