'Tis the season for hospital overcrowding – but the flu isn’t to blame: André Picard
2019-01-08 from theglobeandmail.com
The holidays are over. And in Canada, that means it’s now officially “hospital ERs are bursting at the seams because of the flu” season.
After all, every year around this time, hospitals from coast to coast are beset with an “unexpected surge” in patients. Just one thing: There is nothing unexpected about it. It’s not a surge so much as it is an entirely predictable increase in demand that has an entirely predictable affect on an overburdened, mismanaged system.
When a retail outlet expects a surge in customers – for example, during the annual Boxing Day sale – they bring in extra staff, extend their hours and stockpile supplies. In the health system, however, we do the exact opposite.
When flu season arrives in early winter, as it has for time immemorial, we close medical clinics, scale back home care, reduce staffing in hospitals and even close hospital beds for the holidays. Everyone who needs care – primary care, chronic care, mental-health crisis care, substance-use counselling and more – is funnelled to emergency departments.
Then – surprise, surprise – wait times soar, patients end up on stretchers in hallways for hours or days, ambulances are diverted, and when occupancy rates hit 150 per cent to 200 per cent, a crisis is declared.
Despite the chaos, hospitals, for the most part, do a remarkable job of dealing with untenable circumstances. ER doctors see mind-boggling numbers of patients each shift, nurses work excessive hours (sometimes mandatory overtime, and no meal breaks), and everyone, from lab technicians to janitorial staff, take on extra duties.
Patients, in true Canadian fashion, are also incredibly patient and tolerant, even when they are hungry, sick and left to fester on uncomfortable plastic chairs for countless hours, and stripped of their dignity, lying exposed on hospital gurneys.
It shouldn’t be this way. Not in a country where we spend more than $20-billion a month on sickness care.
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