Kitchener-Waterloo

Hallway medicine 'new norm' at Guelph General Hospital, CEO says

Hallway medicine has become a "common practice" at Guelph General Hospital as a way of dealing with a steadily growing number of patients, many of whom are elderly or have complex medical needs, the hospital CEO says.

Numbers show capacity problems in vast majority of first half of 2019

Sheri Edwards posted these photos of her bed in Guelph General Hospital to Facebook. Edwards says she spent most of her time in a hallway, and had to use a bell to get the nurse's attention. (Sheri Edwards/Facebook)

Hallway medicine has become a "common practice" at Guelph General Hospital, the hospital CEO says.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows the hospital spent most of the first half of 2019 with more patients than acute care beds. 

The Guelph General Hospital spent 158 of 181 days from January to June 2019 over 100 per cent capacity.

Since that time, hospital president and CEO Marianne Walker said demand has only continued to climb. 

"We're finding that it seems to be part of our new norm for Guelph," said Walker, adding that she thinks the community's growing population is contributing to the problem. 

Meanwhile, Walker said the hospital is also dealing with a rise in patients who are older and have more complex needs.

She said hospital staff do their best to move patients out of the emergency room as quickly as possible — but when no beds are available, that often means putting patients in hallways and other "unconventional" spaces.

'Ridiculous'

Sheri Edwards, 50, has experienced hallway healthcare firsthand. Edwards told CBC News she was in hospital in Guelph for multiple days in April 2019 with a bowel blockage. She spent most of that time in the hospital hallway. 

Sheri Edwards says her nurses did a good job, but thought it was strange to be cared for in a hospital hallway. (Sheri Edwards/Facebook)

"It was noisy at times, just because you're in a hallway," said Edwards, who said she had to use a shared bathroom across the hall and ring a metal bell to get the nurse's attention.

Edwards said the nurses did a good job under the circumstances but said she thought it was strange that she was put in a hallway at all.

"I do sometimes sit back and think how ridiculous it seemed," she said.

In an email statement about Edwards' situation, Walker said the hospital is regretful that any patient has to be cared for in a hallway or non-traditional location.

She said the hospital is working with the Ontario Ministry of Health, the LHIN and "community partners" to find better solutions.   

Top 3 crowded local hospitals

The Guelph General Hospital isn't the only local hospital dealing with capacity issues.

Within the former Waterloo-Wellington LHIN, the hospitals with the next-highest overcapacity numbers were:

  • Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus, which spent 122 out of 181 days over capacity;
  • Grand River Hospital in Waterloo, which spent 73 days out of 181 days over capacity. 

Stephen Street, president and CEO of Groves Memorial Community Hospital, said his hospital is also dealing with an aging population and patients that need more complex care.

But in contrast to the Guelph General Hospital, he said the Groves hospital doesn't put patients in hallways because it has additional "surge" beds available. These beds are paid for in part by the LHIN and in part by finding savings in the hospital's budget, he said.

As for Grand River Hospital, vice-president Bonnie Camm said hallways and "unconventional" spaces are a reality for them, too.

"We don't like to have to put patients of course in the hallway or in unconventional spaces, but we do our best to try to provide the most comfortable places possible," she said.

Sending 'strong signal' to province

The Guelph hospital's capacity problems are nothing new to people in the community, according to Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie.

"Probably one of the top five complaints that I would receive as the mayor was in regards to the hospital," he said.

In December, Guelph city council approved a special tax levy that will put $4.5 million toward hospital expansion in the next six years. Guthrie said that's just one tenth of what the full project is expected to cost and hopes the province will soon kick in some additional money.

"Part of why we did it, too, is it sends a very strong signal to the province that the community is behind this need," said Guthrie.

In response to questions from CBC News, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province aims to keep people out of hospital through health promotion and directing patients to the "most appropriate" care setting.

CBC News asked the province whether any additional hospital funding is expected this year but has not yet heard back.

Guelph General Hospital CEO Marianne Walker says more and more people are moving into the Guelph community, putting greater pressure on the hospital. (Sam Blayney)

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