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Dr. Peter Zalan, president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North, says the hospital's emergency department is overcrowded because because there are more frail elderly patients taking up beds.

Staff from Health Sciences North and the Northeast Local Health Integration Network will meet next week to talk about wait times in the Sudbury emergency room.

Average wait times now exceed 19 hours — and are considered the fourth worst in the province. Dr. Peter Zalan, president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North, said the problem is getting worse because there are more frail elderly patients taking up beds in the emergency room instead of in long-term care homes.

"We have massive overcrowding and it becomes very difficult to provide first-class care for those patients," Zalan said.

He said the waits aren't just causing frustration.

"Ten per cent of patients actually leave because they're fed up," he said. "And sometimes, they shouldn't have left."

Zalan said, while other countries saw this coming decades ago, Canada didn't put strategies in place to care for its aging population.

"In Denmark, they started planning for folks getting older in 1986 and they developed a wonderful system of caring for people in the community," he said. "We kind of started three years ago."

The provincial government says the long-term solution would see seniors living at home or in long-term care residences.

But Zalan said a short-term solution is needed immediately until those options are available.