Pa­tience tested by our over­worked health sys­tem

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

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.

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