Coronavirus: Patients at Toronto hospital raise concerns about waiting room experience

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Coronavirus: Physical distancing difficult in emergency waiting rooms, patients say
WATCH ABOVE: Some patients say they’re feeling uneasy after recent trips to the emergency room at North York General Hospital. They say physical distancing was difficult, and people waiting for COVID-19 tests and those there for non-COVID-19-related concerns are kept in the same waiting area for extended periods of time. Katherine Ward reports – Oct 5, 2020

Nikki Crowe has seen her fair share of waiting rooms after getting treatments for cancer and a pre-existing heart condition.

But when she was at the North York General Hospital (NYGH) emergency room on Friday, she said she got a different kind of scare.

“A lady came in and she said that she had gotten a positive COVID test and she was there for retesting. She didn’t want to sit with everyone else,” Crowe explained.

“She was told that she had to [and that the area] had to be clear for the paramedics to come through.”

Crowe had assumed people coming in for testing would be asked to wait in a separate area. She said while everyone was wearing masks, it was difficult to adhere to physical distancing measures.

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“It was a really busy night and it was really hard to social distance,” Crowe said.

“They do have people separated by chairs, but… everyone is kind of in together. When people are getting up and leaving they don’t have time to disinfect the area.”

Another woman told Global News she had a similar experience. Shama Rafiq said she visited the same hospital two weeks ago with her kids.

READ MORE: Front-line health-care workers at GTA hospital ready for 2nd wave

She said she saw how busy the place was and that she was instantly worried about being able to maintain physical distance from others.

“I asked them is there any other place we could go… and [the nurse] said this is the only place,” Rafiq said.

“I was definitely worried that either we could be passing on to someone else or I thought the chances of us having it are lower, but someone could pass it on to us.”

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According to a statement issued by hospital officials, as of Tuesday the assessment centre next to the emergency room off of Leslie Street will be closed. COVID-19 tests will be located at the Branson site and will be appointment-based.

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READ MORE: Toronto emergency room doctor says team is prepared for ’round two’ of COVID-19

“Like hospitals across the GTA, NYGH has experienced unprecedented demand for testing over the last few weeks that exceeded that tests provided during the first wave of COVID-19,” the statement said.

“Our priority is always the health and safety of our patients. Everyone entering our emergency department must follow all precautions to keep patients and staff safe including wearing a mask at all times and sanitizing their hands. No one has contracted COVID from visiting our [emergency department].”

Some infectious disease experts said they can understand the concern people might have about community transmission of COVID-19 in an emergency room. But if safety measures are in place, doctors said the risk is relatively low.

“The double masking and the distancing is the biggest thing to prevent transmission,” Dr. Zain Chagla said.

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But experts recognized there are several challenges that could prevent this from being possible.

“The infrastructure in these emergency rooms aren’t necessarily optimal,” Chagla explained.

“As things get busier, they are going to ramp up with people coming in and out. And while we try to respect those boundaries with distancing and masking, they are not perfect every time.”

For now, Crowe said is keeping her fingers crossed hoping she stays as healthy as possible.

“I was worried that I might come out of the hospital with and come away with a new problem,” she said.

Both Crowe and Rafiq said they wanted to share their experiences because they do not want others to be caught off guard if they choose to come to this hospital. They said they are hoping some changes can be made to improve the patient experience in the waiting room.

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