Canada

Ontario emergency room waits fatal, health officials say

Health officials say emergency room waiting times at some Ontario hospitals are prompting seriously ill people to leave.

Emergency room waiting times at some Ontario hospitals are prompting seriously ill people to walk away, sometimes with fatal results, health officials say.

Dr. Sean Gartner says 11 per cent of the people who came to the emergency room at his hospital in Guelph last month ended up leaving without receiving treatment.

A few months earlier, Gartner said an elderly man who left after he became tired of waiting was later found dead.

In February, Patricia Vepari, a 21-year-old engineering student, arrived at a Kitchener hospital emergency room with a fever, sore throat and nausea.

Facing an eight-hour wait, she decided to go home, where she died of an infection.

Tom Closson, president of Toronto's University Health Network, said the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome at several health-care facilities two years ago seems to have discouraged many people from going to emergency rooms with minor problems.

This means people who walk away are more likely to have a serious ailment, he said. "It's a serious, serious problem."

Closson said while the provincial government is spending a lot of money and effort to reduce waiting times for cardiac treatment and hip replacements, emergency facilities are not getting the same attention.

"I think there's much more suffering that occurs in my waiting room than occurs with people with osteoarthritis," said Gartner.