Managers at a Newmarket hospital are sounding an alarm about an overcrowding “crisis” that has seen some Ontario patients packed into gymnasiums and conference rooms as healthcare professionals try to cope.
Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket has 381 funded beds, but last week it was dealing with a patient population of 481 – 100 patients over capacity.
“They don’t have bathrooms, they don’t have privacy and they don’t have the right infection-control mechanisms,” Southlake CEO Arden Krystal told CTV News Toronto on a tour of the overcrowded facility Monday.
Some patients at the hospital are currently being accommodated in an auditorium meant for seminars and in a gymnasium meant for patient rehab and exercise.
The makeshift care spaces mean that some patients have to walk down the hall and go to public washroom just to use the toilet.
“It’s very difficult for patients and families, period when they’re admitted to hospital, but to have them in an environment that is not designed for patient-care, it is difficult for everyone,” Southlake Chief of Staff Steven Beatty said.
According to hospital staff, the spike in patient traffic started during flu season last year and still hasn’t returned to normal.
“Every four and a half minutes .. a new patient walks through our emergency room doors,” said Beatty, adding that Southlake has the third busiest ER in the province.
While the hospital is designed to handle 80,000 patients per year, it is currently coping with 120,000 per year.
“Even the kitchen staff have to prepare in excess of 300 meals a day above and beyond what they would normally prepare, so all of these things are difficult and not ideal,” Beatty said. “It’s a boots on the ground response to this crisis.”
While Southlake has been particularly challenged by overcrowding, Krystal acknowledged that the problem is being seen across the province.
“The growth in the system hasn’t kept up with the demand and that’s kind of across the whole system.”
It’s a problem that the provincial government has also acknowledged. In October, Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced that the government will be funding 2,000 additional patient beds and spaces across the province.
Just four of those new spaces have been allocated to Southlake so far, but an additional 51 spaces have been allocated to the Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) of which Southlake is a member. Those 51 spaces will be allocated to the various hospitals within that group based on need.
In addition, the province will be re-opening Humber River Hospital's former Finch Site on Sunday as a facility to accommodate overflow patients who no longer need acute hospital care. When that facility reopens on Sunday, 30 patients will be transferred there from Southlake.
While executives at Southlake say they’re proud of the quality of care that healthcare professionals provide despite the circumstances, they say they’re worried that overcrowding will only get worse as a large segment of the population continues to age over the coming years. They say they’d like to see a long-term plan from the Ministry of Health that deals with overcrowding over the next 10 to 15 years. In addition to new beds, they say they’d also like to see more funding for homecare to help alleviate the overcrowded hospital system.
- With a report from CTV News Toronto reporter Paul Bliss