Northeastern hospitals fight to keep 'hallway medicine' from being the new normal

New data obtained by the CBC shows how overcrowded hospitals are in northeastern Ontario. But they want to make sure that doctors, nurses and patients don't get too used to hallway medicine.

Sudbury, Temiskaming and Timmins top list of over capacity hospitals in the northeast

Patient beds set up in hallways at Sudbury's Health Sciences North have become common over the past few years. (Health Sciences North )

There's a spot on the fourth floor of Health Sciences North, where the hall widens a bit.

It's now filled with a patient lying in a bed, just steps away from a bench where other patients are waiting to see a doctor and right next to the hallway where people are streaming past. 

This patient is separated from this foot traffic only by a few fabric privacy screens. The lights overhead stay on all night. 

The Sudbury hospital also has a dozen patients in an open "dormitory" style room that used to be a rehab clinic for people recovering from hand surgery. This is meant to ease pressure during the annual flu season influx.  

And then there's the 30 or so people who spend a day or more in the emergency department, waiting for a proper room to open up.

"It's not ideal," says vice-president of patient experience and digital transformation Mark Hartman. 

Mark Hartman is the vice-president of patience experience and digital transformation at Health Sciences North. (Erik White/CBC )

Days northeastern hospitals were overcapacity in first 6 months of 2019

  1. Health Sciences North Sudbury — 168
  2. Temiskaming Hospital — 135
  3. Timmins and District General Hospital — 72
  4. St. Joseph's Hospital Elliot Lake — 54
  5. Sensenbrenner Hospital Kapuskasing — 50
  6. North Bay Regional Health Centre — 24
  7. Smooth Rock Falls Hospital — 24
  8. Sault and Area Hospital — 18

Health Sciences North has been dealing with this problem for the better part of a decade. The new Sudbury hospital was built too small and there is the chronic issue of the hospital housing seniors while they wait for long-term care home spaces to open up.

But Hartman says they are focused on finding a fix, so it doesn't become the new normal. 

"I'm not concerned that it will be accepted as an acceptable state to be in," he says. 

"Working out how to solve that is not going to be an overnight fix."

Data obtained by CBC shows that of the first 180 days of 2019, Health Sciences North was over capacity 168 of those days, leading to patient beds in hallways. (Health Sciences North)

Health Sciences North is moving its children treatment centre in order to free up space for another 56 beds and is encouraged by the province's pledge to invest millions in new nursing homes.

"It's not a simple problem, but it's great that the problem is being recognized across the province and hopefully that will lead to solutions," says Hartman.

A close second to Sudbury in hospital overcrowding is the Temiskaming Hospital, which was over capacity 135 days in the first six months of last year.

Mike Baker is the president and the CEO of the Temiskaming Hospital. (Erik White/CBC )

CEO Mike Baker says currently they are housing 67 patients in a hospital with 59 beds.

That means people staying in the chapel, in isolation rooms built for infectious disease outbreaks such as SARS and in the obstetrics unit, which is just supposed to be for new mothers and their babies.

Baker says on top of keeping hospital staff busier, those extra patients translate into more meals, medicine and cleaning, which has put the Temiskaming Hospital in a $1 million deficit position. 

"So yeah, it's difficult to keep on top of it. It's difficult to find new solutions," he says.

Baker welcomes the province's plan for more long-term care homes, pointing out that a similar size community like Kirkland Lake has no overcrowding at its hospital, thanks to a shorter long-term care wait list.

But he says that could take years, during which seeing patients sleeping in hallways becomes more and more normal. 

"Can the ministry keep up with the pace, while we're waiting for that other transition to happen?" says Baker.

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to