Ontario’s provincial healthcare system is failing its most vulnerable patients
Due to over-the-counter drug shortages, along with increasing RSV and flu cases, Ontario's ICUs are operating at over capacity, leading to poor patient care.
As hospitals face overcrowding, long wait times, and staffing shortages, Ontario’s most vulnerable patients, such as people struggling with mental health and young children, suffer the consequences of the province’s failing healthcare system.
In October 2022, the Liberal Party released an Ontario Health document that outlines data for “executives and emergency department chiefs” on a year-by-year basis.
According to CTV News, the report shows that “approximately nine out of 10 Ontario residents seeking hospital treatment in an emergency room waited up to 33.4 hours for an inpatient bed in August 2022, which officials say is a 54 per cent increase compared to August 2021.” According to the report, ambulance offload times increased by “40.7 per cent” before even entering the hospital patients waited “up to 83 minutes.” Finally, their time spent in the emergency department was “up to 11.7 hours (or a 15.8 per cent increase).” The duration for admitted patients was “up to 44.1 hours (representing a 48.2 per cent increase).”
Member of Provincial Parliament and emergency surgeon, Dr. Adil Shamji, stated in an interview with CTV News that longer wait times can negatively impact the healthcare standards in these facilities, as there is more room for error among staff due to additional stress.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s “Plan to Stay Open” commits to “add thousands of healthcare workers and free up 2,500 hospital beds.” This plan includes legislation permitting senior patients to be transferred out of hospitals to “a facility not of their choosing” while waiting for long-term care home placement.
In an interview with Toronto Life, Dr. Jason Fischer, head of emergency medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), goes over the problems faced by pediatric hospitals amid a rise in respiratory syncytial virus cases concurrent with the influenza epidemic. “Compared with 2019 we’re seeing about 25 per cent more patients for the same time frame,” leading to tripled wait times, some of 12 hours. Factors affecting the crisis, such as the shortage of nurses, make working conditions more intense for frontline healthcare workers. Besides staffing problems, there is also a shortage of liquid Tylenol and ibuprofen for children. As such, “parents can’t effectively manage their children’s fevers at home,” says Fischer.
On November 17, 2022, CTV News reported that a two-year-old patient with respiratory syncytial virus was nearly sent to a hospital in Buffalo, US, due to the pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed shortage. A month ago, his mother, Keri Graham, took her son Tyler to Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital because he struggled to breathe, and his case escalated. Doctors were left with minimal solutions, as the only available bed they could find was at a hospital in Buffalo.
Eventually, an ICU bed opened up “150 km away at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre,” where Tyler was hooked up to a ventilator for the next two weeks.
Ontario health minister Sylvia Jones said the “province has recently increased paediatric ICU capacity by 30 per cent.” However, SickKids reported that on November 11, 2022, the hospital’s ICU was operating at more than 127 per cent of its capacity.
However, not every parent is lucky enough to call their story a close call. On November 19, 2022, a CTV News article reported on the tragic story of Ezra Amos, a 22-year-old queer individual living between Toronto and Hamilton. On March 31, 2022, after 8 p.m., witnesses at Bathurst and Bloor “reported hearing a crash, followed by glass raining down from a construction site above. Then, a body hit the sidewalk.”
The last five months of Amos’ life were unfortunately characterized with troubling stories: frequent interactions with police, lack of a steady home, and even reportedly a miscarriage days before their death.
On March 30, 2022, one day prior to Amos’ death, TTC security footage supposedly showed Amos on the subway tracks in an attempt to take their own life. When police arrived at the scene, they allegedly became aggressive, and Amos was arrested and transported to Toronto Western’s emergency department, then to a psychiatric unit after being restrained and sedated. Despite repeatedly expressing a desire to end their life during a psychiatrist’s evaluation, Amos was discharged 12 hours later after they claimed an obligation to attend a court date—they were not due in court until months later.
The discharge documents showed no plans for their crisis and no follow-up. No phone calls were made to any close loved ones. Amos’ mother, Brandy Schlemko, says, “they could have saved [Amos’] life with one phone call—to me, a friend, to somebody.”
Many are dissatisfied with the government’s proposed plans to address issues faced by the healthcare sector. However, for some, the damage is irreversible, and their only hope is to spread awareness of these patients’ stories.