Hospital overcrowding crisis caused by more than just flu, says Ontario Health Coalition

Patients are receiving "substandard care" in hallways at hospitals across Ontario due to a crisis in capacity that leads to increased infection rates, more violence and higher mortality rates, according to the Ontario Health Coalition.

10 surgeries at Windsor Regional Hospital have been postponed this week because of overcrowding

(Chris Ensing/CBC)

Patients are receiving "substandard care" in hallways at hospitals across Ontario due to a crisis in capacity that leads to increased infection rates, more violence and higher mortality rates, according to the Ontario Health Coalition.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the coalition, said basically every hospital in a city with 50,000 people or more is running at 100 per cent capacity or higher, and not just during the flu season surge.

"There's a crisis and it's not just the flu," she explained. 

"What it means is that every bed is full in the hospital, it means when patients go into the emergency department they can't get admitted into the wards so they have to wait on stretchers in hallways. It means significant hospital resources have to go to discharging patients, pushing them out ever quicker and ever sicker to clear out beds."

10 surgeries postponed at WRH

Mehra's comments come as both campuses of Windsor Regional Hospital continue to struggle with overcrowding.

The Met Campus was at 107 per cent capacity Thursday morning, with the Ouellette Campus at 103 per cent.

"We had to postpone 10 pre scheduled/elective surgeries that would have had to occupy a bed post surgery to accommodate the surge," wrote hospital CEO David Musyj in a memo to staff. "We have 23 'extra' beds open ... since December."

Because we're permanently running our hospital system in crisis in Ontario there is no surge capacity.- Natalie Mehra , Ontario Health Coalition

Musyj explained to reporters that the hospital got funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for 20 beds in December, but there was still insufficient planning to ensure there were enough staff members to take care of the patients in those beds.

He pointed out once the crisis hit, it was too late — 12 long-term care homes were closed to admissions because of influenza and influenza-like symptoms.

"If we're trying to find staff to staff our hospital, some of those staff are working in those long-term care facilities ... If they're busy, they're eating up all their hours ... so they're not available," he said.

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj said officials are working to address the bed shortage. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Musyj added leaving area clinics open later during the weeks that encompass the flu season would go a long way to take pressure off hospitals.

"What we need to continue to look at and continue to work with the LHIN and Ministry on, is being far more proactive with respect to the bed increase and not wait until you get into a 'crisis' mode to be able to find the beds and the funding," he explained. "Give us a little more flexibility and trust all of us in operating the hospital so we don't have to get to a situation where we're going to be possibly postponing someone's surgery in order to fund an extra bed."

Both Musyj and area ambulance officials have pointed to a massive influx of flu patients as a major reason the hospital is having trouble keeping up with the number of incoming patients.

Essex-Windsor EMS Chief Bruce Krauter said paramedics have been waiting three to five hours just to drop patients off at area emergency rooms this week.

Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition says the provincial government needs to rebuild capacity in hospitals. (CBC)

Mehra said that's just one one of the possible negatives that come from overflowing hospitals.

"You get higher infection rates, you get surges where you get backlogs and patients waiting on stretchers, you don't have enough staff, you have higher levels of violence because people have to wait so long and get frustrated and you get higher mortality rates."

Flu surge should be predictable

She pointed to deep cuts from the provincial government that have limited capacity and set hospitals up to be overwhelmed by annual surges like the flu, which should be predictable.

"It's every year, it's expected so hospitals, one would think reasonably, would be able to have the resources to staff up and have surge capacity," said Mehra. "But because we're permanently running our hospital system in crisis in Ontario there is no surge capacity."