Patience tested by our overworked health system
You have to be patient with the health system. Everyone knows that. And one becomes acutely cognizant of that reality whenever one is obliged to actually rely on the health system.
“Hallway medicine” was one of the many catch phrases that led to the removal of the Ontario Liberals by Doug Ford’s Conservatives last year. Anyone who has been to a hospital lately knows that people expect to spend a lot of time in hallways.
That was evident during a recent visit to the emergency department of the Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital, the venerable Alexandria institution which, like every hospital, is always busy.
The HGMH routinely treats 65 to 75 patients a day, but on this particular day, December 30, the ER ward was packed; staff saw an estimated 100 people on that day.
The high number of patients was a symptom of a seasonal rush at emergency departments.
Since many doctors’ offices and clinics are closed during the Christmas-New Year’s period, emergency department caseloads tend to soar during the holidays. Flu cases contributed to the already heavy workload. On this particular day, a sense of resignation hung over the assembled mass of ill and injured. They were, after all, congregated in a waiting area, where they expected to wait. It was early evening; some people had been there all day. This has been a really bad winter for broken bones; it seems if you have not fractured something by tumbling on ice, you know someone who has fallen victim to the painful downside of winter.
However, in spite of a patient who had suffered a broken wrist, few of those in the emergency queue appeared to be facing any life-threatening conditions. Nobody was bleeding profusely or gasping for air.
One person had a migraine; another was demonstrating flulike symptoms; everyone looked tired.
Most of the people in the emergency area were from Québec. Evidently, wait times in La Belle Province “sont malades,” thus, many of our neighbours are willing to drive to hospitals in Hawkesbury, Alexandria or Cornwall in the hope of receiving faster care. Some were obvious regulars. They swapped stories about other hospitals and wait times as they stared at their hand-held devices. The crowd began to thin as the night wore on. A couple with a whinging child decided to bail. Patients shuffled from one waiting area to another.
Patients had been given devices to alert them when it was their turn to see the doctor.
When the buzzers were activated, the weary reacted with joy, as if they had just won the lottery.
Five or six hours later, the broken wrist sufferer was seen by a young and surprisingly upbeat doctor, only to be told that the X-ray department was closed and the patient must return the next day, New Year’s Eve.
That original visit would be followed by more appointments, more X-rays, and more endless waits in hallways and waiting rooms. Time heals everything. It is easy to become frustrated when you look at the slow and costly health system, but there is no point in complaining, is there?
Well, you may have heard this one before, but there is a concerted effort to heal the many malaises that inflict our hospitals.
“Our government is taking a comprehensive, pragmatic approach to addressing the public health care system,” assured Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell. “By relentlessly focusing on patient experience, and on better connected care, we will reduce wait times and end hallway health care.”
He is repeating the party line about the government’s “longterm plan to fix and strengthen the public health care system by focusing directly on the needs of Ontario’s patients and families.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott has declared: “The people of Ontario deserve a connected health care system that puts their needs first. At the same time the people of Ontario deserve peace of mind that this system is sustainable and accessible for all patients and their families, regardless of where you live, how much you make, or the kind of care you require.” The prescription is expensive. “Ontario’s renewed patient-centric approach is paired with historic investments in long-term care for seniors and improved mental health and addictions services for families,” the province says.
The government is investing $3.8 billion over ten years to establish a comprehensive and connected system for mental health and addictions treatment, and adding 15,000 new long-term care beds over five years and 30,000 beds over 10 years.
Access is to be improved by “organizing health care providers to work as one coordinated team, focused on patients and specific local needs,” providing patients, families and caregivers help “in navigating the public health care system, 24/7,” integrating multiple provincial agencies and specialized provincial programs into a single agency to provide a central point of accountability and oversight for the health care system.
“If we expect real improvements that patients will experience first-hand, we must better coordinate the public health care system, so it is organized around people’s needs and outcomes. This will enable local teams of health care providers to know and understand each patient’s needs and provide the appropriate, highquality connected care Ontarians expect and deserve,” said the health minister.
It seems that ever since the first physician took the Hippocratic Oath, a government has been swearing that it can remedy the ills of the health system.
Critics stress that all of the Conservatives’ efficiency-based initiatives must be closely monitored.
Yet, for the many who slowly move through the system, any reform would be just what the doctor ordered.