'Beyond emergency': Protesters in Toronto accuse Ford government of 'inaction' amid hospital crisis
Demonstrations come amid reports ICU at Toronto's SickKids at 120% capacity
Dozens of protesters carrying signs with words like, "overworked, underpaid, overwhelmed, underfunded" gathered in front of a downtown Toronto hospital Monday — to speak out against what they say is "inaction" by the Ford government amid overcrowded children's hospitals across the province.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), which represents more than 500 organizations, staged the demonstration at Toronto General Hospital. The rally was one of several health-care protests across Ontario Monday and on Friday.
"This is beyond emergency," said OHC executive director Natalie Mehra during a news conference at Queen's Park just before the protest. She said the Ford government has failed to provide leadership and respond to Ontarians who are in need of hope.
"We want to show support for the hospital workers and the health-care workers because we know how completely overstretched they are," Mehra added.
The demonstrations come as The Canadian Press reports the intensive care unit at Toronto's SickKids hospital is at 120 per cent capacity and has been under immense pressure for weeks. Pediatric hospitals across Ontario are in similar situations, seeing a surge in children with COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Mehra described receiving frequent notices of maternity wards, ICUs and emergency departments closing down, overwhelmed pediatric hospitals and an unprecedented crisis in public adult hospitals.
"What more urgent level of care is there? That's it," said Mehra.
"When the hospitals start closing those services, you are actually in collapse at that point."
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The demonstration also comes days after a four-year-old Simcoe, Ont. boy was flown 350 kilometres to Kingston, Ont. to receive treatment after local hospitals reached capacity.
At a news conference Monday, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, who's also the deputy premier, said the scenario is an example of hospitals working together to make use of air ambulances when there are high numbers of pediatric patients.
"It's not ideal as a family to have to have a child that far away, but it is also important to appreciate that by doing that air transport, that child was able to be assessed and treated sooner," said Jones.
Over the past year, the Ford government has said it is increasing the hiring of health-care staff and will be fast-tracking international graduates to help with the unfolding hospital crisis.
But the OHC says the province requires a recruitment drive that will hire tens of thousands of long-term care and hospital staff to stabilize the system.
'Come see for yourself,' ER doctor tells politicians
Dr Raghu Venugopal, an emergency physician in Toronto, attended the protest.
Venugopal told CBC Toronto patients are waiting three-to-five days on stretchers in the emergency ward to be admitted. He said children are waiting for hours for Tylenol. And he said in one case, a patient in her 90s with a fractured spine and bleeding from her head due to a fall had to get a specialist consultation while still sitting in a waiting room chair.
Venugopal called on the Ford government not to appeal a recent Ontario Superior Court ruling that struck down Bill 124, which limited wage for public sector employees, including nurses and other health-care workers.
"That was a knife in nurses' spleens. Now that that bill has been squashed in court, it's time to let that go. Number 2, we have to keep increasing capacity in hospitals," he said.
His biggest advice to Premier Doug Ford and Jones: come spend a night with an emergency room nurse.
"Come see for yourself what ERs are facing, what families are facing. I think that would educate the premier and deputy premier."
At a news conference in the Ottawa Valley Monday morning, Premier Doug Ford was asked to address the government's commitment to ensure the province has sufficient access to health care, especially in rural areas.
"It's absolutely critical that we never lose track of rural Ontario, making sure that they have the proper funding to have care right across the board," Ford said. The premier added that more 14 000 nurses were added this year and that his government increased the health-care budget.
"This year alone, we're building medical universities in Ontario for the first time in decades and we're going to continue making sure that the needs and and the requirements to keep all rural Ontario healthy [are met]."
'We're really worried'
Back in Toronto, Mehra said the OHC has never seen anything like today's state of health-care, describing the situation as an unprecedented emergency.
"The public does not realize the situation we're in unless someone tells them, and they're not being told." she said.
"You would think that [Ford] would be providing some hope and a light at the end of the tunnel for the health-care workers that are struggling, staggering under the burden of patients in these hospitals all around us. But there is nothing of that sort"
According to Mehra, Ontario funds its hospitals at the lowest rate of any province in the country.
The OHC says the Ford government doubled funding for for-profit private clinics in the last quarter of the most recent fiscal year in an attempt to privatize services.
"We're really worried," said Mehra.
With files from The Canadian Press