Hospitals across Ontario reportedly under-staffed and under-supplied

Some of Ontario’s busiest hospitals are underpopulated and undersupplied, due to structural underinvestment and aging infrastructure, according to a new report from a civil society organization.

The study, presented in Hamilton today, draws on data collected by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, and said that Ontario hospitals are experiencing higher demand for emergency care than they’re able to provide.

The conference, entitled “Incapacity in Health Care,” focused on the findings of a January study from CCPA on the capacity of emergency rooms across the country. The study led the organization to request information from hospitals on their emergency room capacity, information they said they had not yet received.

According to the report, the data are “conclusive” that some Ontario hospitals were overcapacity. However, some of the highest overcapacity rates were found at Memorial General Hospital in Hamilton, Memorial Hospital in Brampton, St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, and the Victoria Hospital in London.

The Hamilton site of the report explained that Memorial and St. Joseph’s were cited as the largest under-staffed hospitals in Ontario, partly because those facilities have fewer specialists in emergency medicine.

“The lack of service we’re seeing at this moment is not a problem of cost,” said Jeremy Laurin, the head of research for CCPA and the author of the “Incapacity in Health Care” report.

He urged the Ontario government to prioritize investment in maintaining hospital capacity and adding more medical specialists.

“This is a really important issue, because this is a really important health system,” he said. “We can’t continue to let hospitals go down the tubes. The government needs to make sure that they’re doing what they can.”

“Improving accessibility and affordability for everyone in the province is a key part of Ontario’s economic plan. We look forward to carefully reviewing the report and engaging with organizations who want to work together to make Ontario a better place to live, work and raise a family,” said Evan Siddall, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, in a statement issued by the ministry shortly after the release of the report.

He added, “There are ways to save costs while also investing in important priorities and I am committed to this effort. We are working hard to eliminate hospital waiting lists and to eliminate surgical wait times.”

Mr. Siddall did not, however, mention the “Incapacity in Health Care” report’s call for urgent action to address the shortage of specialized physicians in the province.

The state of Ontario’s hospitals has long been a problem to hospitals. A previous CCPA report, in 2017, found that Ontario’s hospitals lacked critical staff, including clinical pharmacists, mental health counselors, surgeons, and others who would make up a more diverse and high-quality system.

According to Ms. Laurin, “We’re worried about the lack of available services across all grades, and the barriers to proper physician access,” he said. “It’s really urgent, because so many Ontarians — particularly those who are marginalized, marginalized in so many different ways, so many people who aren’t fully connected with the health system — will suffer.”

In February, Ontario’s health minister, Helena Jaczek, promised to lower wait times for elective surgeries and reduce emergency room backlogs to meet her commitment to provide low-cost, easily accessible primary care.

But a report from the Canadian Healthcare Association this month raised questions about whether or not Ontarians would be able to access those remedies, noting that “Ontario can’t guarantee to bring down wait times to the national average,” while the province’s biggest hospitals are continuing to understaff their emergency rooms and understaff their surgical programs.

The CHA report, whose executive director is author of “Incapacity in Health Care,” added that “the health-care system remains an area of uncertainty for Ontarians and remains the No. 1 issue in public opinion polls.”

Ms. Laurin said today that he does not expect the government to quickly take steps toward building a more inclusive health care system, but added, “We want the government to listen to us.”

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