Guelph ER brought to standstill by mental health bed shortage

The absence of psychiatric care at Guelph General Hospital is causing days-long delays in the hospital's emergency room, a Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network report says.

'We had no place to put them,' vice-president tells CBC News

The number of mental health emergencies is increasing dramatically according to a report by the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN. (CBC)

Guelph General Hospital's emergency room beds and services have been tied up by people in mental crisis because they have nowhere else to go, a report by the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network shows.

"Our emergency room would come to a standstill," Eileen Bain, vice president of patient services told CBC News, "because we had 10 or 11 patients who required inpatient admission and we had no place to put them."

"One of the patients said to me, 'If a patient came in with a heart attack, you wouldn't wait for 48 or 50 hours to treat my heart attack, but I'm coming here with a psychiatric crisis or emergency and it's okay to wait for 48 or 50 hours to see a psychiatrist?'"

Unlike other hospitals in Waterloo Region and Wellington County, Guelph General does not have any beds in the hospital that are dedicated to caring for people with mental health emergencies.'s okay to wait for 48 or 50 hours to see a psychiatrist?- Patient, Guelph General Hospital

95 per cent of patients in mental distress who got admitted to Guelph General Hospital's emergency room on a Saturday were still there Monday, tying up emergency room resources and staff while the patient waited to be transferred to Homewood Health Centre. 

Long wait times

The hospital has a partnership with Homewood, which is one of the largest mental health and addiction facilities in Canada.

Homewood is called to do a psychiatric assessment when someone arrives at the hospital's emergency room in a mental crisis, but the health centre is not always able to respond promptly to an assessment request.

"So, we would hold those patients in our emergency room and they wouldn't get the care they need," Bain said. 

She said the situation came to a head in 2014 and was taking its toll on everyone, including patients and front line staff.


Patients reporting to Emergency Room seeking psychiatric care

(figures rounded off)

YearE.R. Patients

From 2011 to 2014, the number of people showing up with psychiatric emergencies increase by about 50 per cent.

Mental health review

Faced with an ever-increasing number of psychiatric emergencies, Guelph General asked the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN to review the mental health services that were available in the region.

"We knew that we had to do something very, very different," she said. "We needed new ways of caring for these patients."

The LHIN released its final report this week, which pointed out areas of the health care system that could be improved to better support patients with mental health or addictions concerns.

Bain said the hospital is already making some of those improvements, such as building a new safe room for patients in mental crisis and working more closely with Homewood psychiatrists.