Ontario healthcare is 'an absolute disaster': Things are only going to get worse for hospital staffing, medical experts say

·6 min read

Ontario’s medical system is currently in crisis, according to several medical professionals, which in turn is impacting the province in many aspects.

According to the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), about 25 hospitals across the province had to scale back services over the August long weekend as a direct result of staffing shortages. Despite being the country’s most respected professions, nursing and doctor job positions across the province and Canada are desperately understaffed. One million people in Ontario (and 5 million in Canada) don’t have a family doctor. Meanwhile, paramedics say their response time is slowing as a result of offload delays. Medical staff across the board are experiencing exhaustion, overwhelmed by a workload directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association, describes the healthcare system in the province in an “extreme crisis state,” something she says isn’t surprising.

We had gaps in the healthcare system before the pandemic, so dealing with the crisis of COVID as we have for the last two-and-a-half years has put us into the situation we’re in now with doctor shortages and ER department closures.Dr. Rose Zacharias, President of Ontario Medical Association

Mike Sanderson, chief of the Hamilton Paramedic Service and the treasurer of the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs, says paramedics have had the same issues with COVID-19 and self isolation as the rest of the community, which has impacted their availability for staffing. He says another challenge they’re currently facing is the increase of call volumes, which continue to go up, anywhere from five to 20 per cent, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“That creates additional workload and stress, along with other challenges,” he says.

Hospital offload delays in services in both large and small rural communities are creating significant challenges that are leading to crowded hospitals, where paramedics have to keep patients in hallways for long periods of time until the hospitals are able to accept them.

Recruitment is also proving to be challenging, as the pandemic has impacted class sizes and the number of people coming out of school.

“Many services are in the process of hiring and trying to compete for the same employees,” he says.

Sanderson says he doesn’t expect much to change in the fall, and anticipates another few years until things get back to pre-pandemic “normalcy”.

“I think it’s going to be a challenging fall, I wouldn’t paint a rosy picture,” he says. “But hopefully we’ll be able to start to recover…it’s really going to take a concerted effort.”

Ontario healthcare is 'an absolute disaster'

Cathryn Hoy, president of the ONA, calls the current state of healthcare in the province “an absolute disaster.” When it comes to nurses, she says the provincial government needs to be doing more to retain them, namely paying them more.

While the government has offered $5000 of retention funds to nurses who take a job in Ontario, Hoy says the move doesn’t make sense.

“There’s 30,000 jobs out there, why do you have to give someone a bonus to take a job,” she asks. “That’s a waste of healthcare dollars. The (nurses) who’ve been through the thick and thin of COVID aren’t getting any of those dollars.”

She also wants to see the province repel Bill 124, pre-pandemic legislation that is meant to limit compensation for publicly funded organizations. She says more nurses are compelled to take work through agencies, rather than work for healthcare employers like hospitals, because they’ll get paid more, regardless of experience or years working.

“If you pay RNs, they’ll come back,” she says. “They want to live in their communities, they want to live close to home.”

It's not just medical professionals who are expressing their concern. Many are taking to social media to address the health care situation in Ontario.

Zacharias with the Ontario Medical Association says they’ve written a “prescription” for the Ontario government on potential solutions. Some key priorities include catching up with backlogs, investments in mental health and addiction services and an investment in a public health strategy. The entirety of the recommendations can be seen at Betterhealthcare.ca