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Hospitals across Ontario face overcrowding issue

Oshawa regularly operates at overcapacity

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Lakeridge Health’s chief of staff says hospital overcrowding is an unfortunate but unsurprising reality in Ontario’s healthcare system.

A recent study by CBC News revealed new data regarding hospitals operating at more than 100 per cent capacity on almost a daily basis.

Based on data received through freedom of information requests, the CBC study shows some of the province’s largest hospitals were overcapacity almost every day between January and June 2019.

Lakeridge’s hospitals in both Oshawa and Ajax-Pickering were at overcapacity 167 days out of a total of 181 during the six-month span.

Dr. Tony Stone, Lakeridge’s chief of staff, says these figures show the reality of the situation.

“It’s lived experience, and I have no reason to doubt the data,” Stone told The Oshawa Express.

However, he notes it’s a challenge faced at hospitals all over Ontario.

Stone said in the past, most hospitals would see significant increases in patients during the winter months, particularly due to the onset of cold and flu season.

As summer set in, those patient volumes would decrease.

However, Stone says that pattern has changed, and hospitals no longer see a “settling of patient volumes.”

According to Stone, the main reason for this is an increase in patients who are waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility or home/community care services.

At any time, there are 220 to 260 beds used by patients who require care in a long-term facility in Lakeridge’s system.

Stone notes as Oshawa and Durham Region’s populations continue to grow as well as age, the issue will remain to be a “big pressure” on local hospitals.

At the same time, emergency department visits in Oshawa aren’t decreasing either, with almost 280 per day, Stone says.

This has resulted in more congested emergency rooms, and Stone says they are forced to place patients in “alternative settings” such as hallways and other spaces.

All these factors have contributed to the ongoing theme of “hallway healthcare” in Ontario.

While increased government funding into long-term care homes and community health services are continuously called for, Stone says Lakeridge is trying several steps to address overcapacity.

Last fall, hospital officials began a partnership with local retirement homes with the goal of adding 100 more beds in Durham Region.

With the creation of the Durham Ontario Health Team earlier this year, Stone says Lakeridge is working with other community organizations to optimize the delivery of patient care.

Further down the road, Stone expects the expansion of existing facilities, and the creation of new ones will also assist to alleviate overcapacity issues.

A new 22-bed mental health unit recently opened at the Ajax-Pickering Hospital, and Pickering will also see the opening of Lakeridge’s Jerry Coughlan Health and Wellness Centre.

Stone believes the future redevelopment and expansion of the Bowmanville Hospital will mean “added capacity for the entire system.”

Expansions for hospitals in Oshawa and Ajax-Pickering will eventually be needed as well.

Lakeridge Health has received provincial approval to build a new hospital in Durham, although no location has been selected.

Stone says this will add an additional 600 to 700 beds.

Overcapacity isn’t an issue to be solved at hospitals alone, as Stone believes those in the urgent, primary, home and long-term healthcare sectors have a role to play as well.

“It’s really going to take a concentrated effort by all of us,” he says.