Wait times at several major Toronto hospitals are high — and trending upwards at some sites — as Ontario’s health-care system buckles under pressure.
July was marked across the province by emergency room closures driven by staff shortages — particularly among nurses.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) recently said it was “outraged about the severe nursing and health-care staffing shortages that are plaguing hospitals.”
“The shortages are being reported in emergency departments, ICUs, medical units, surgery, and more.”
At several major hospitals in Toronto, key health-care indicators are high while some have worsened significantly over the past three months.
Data provided to Global News by Unity Health illustrates the strained system.
Wait times to be admitted from the emergency room at St. Josheph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital — both run by Unity Health — were 25 hours in May and 23.3 hours in June.
In May, the average wait time to be admitted at St. Joseph’s was 32.9 hours.
The target time for hospitals to admit patients from the emergency room is eight hours, according to Health Quality Ontario, part of Public Health Ontario.
Wait times shared by the Scarborough Health Network (SHN), which operates SHN General, SHN Centenary and SHN Birchmount, were also high. In both May and June, patients waited 18 hours from triage to receiving an in-patient bed. That number further increased 17 per cent to 21 hours in July.
North York General Hospital provided a three-month figure to Global News: between May and July, patients waited an average 20 hours to be admitted from the ER.
In May, the average wait time for someone in the emergency room at Michael Garron Hospital, part of the Toronto East Health Network, was nine hours and 37 minutes. That dropped to eight hours and 33 minutes in June, before spiking to 10 hours and 25 minutes in July.
“We remain grateful for our interdisciplinary teams who are working tirelessly to provide care for our patients and community during this unprecedented time,” a spokesperson for the hospital said.
Clogged emergency departments can have a knock-on impact on health-care provision across the city.
When paramedics transport a patient to hospital, they must wait with that patient as their care provider until they can be admitted to the hospital and are assigned a bed.
This wait, known as an offload delay, stops ambulances and crews from returning to the road to respond to new emergencies.
The Ontario Association Paramedic Chiefs and Ontario Paramedic Association recently sounded the alarm on growing delay in offload times.
Darryl Wilton, president of the Ontario Paramedic Association, said in an interview that offload delays have gotten 12 times longer in the last year alone. He said the delays have reached a level he has never seen before in his 25 years on the job.
At Michael Garron, ambulance offload times hit a three-month peak in June at more than 31 minutes. Ambulances waited an average of 18 minutes and 56 seconds to offload in May, increasing slightly to 19 minutes and five seconds in July.
At SHN’s three hospitals, offload times are higher.
Paramedic crews waited an average of 31 minutes to clear after arriving at hospital with a patient in May and June, while July saw offload delays of 38 minutes.
At North York General Hospital, the three-month average offload time was 24 minutes.
Unity Health’s hospitals averaged an offload time of 55 minutes in May and 51 minutes in June.
However, figures provided by paramedics show the average delay at health centres in Toronto is longer still.
In May, paramedics waited an average of 1 hour and 59 minutes to leave hospital, one hour and 53 minutes in June and two hours and 11 minutes in July.
“Paramedics spend approximately 800 hours in hospital each day,” a spokesperson for Toronto paramedics said. “In-hospital wait times for Paramedics are the most significant challenge, negatively impacting ambulance availability in the community.”
Data from Toronto paramedics applies to all calls for ambulances in the city, rather than the individual offload times at the various hospitals which shared data with Global News.
A common thread across Toronto’s struggling hospitals is high nursing vacancy rates, a reflection of a nursing shortage playing out across Ontario, advocacy groups say.
In July, University Health Network was recruiting for 371 full-time and part-time nurses, roughly nine per cent of the 4,000 nursing positions at its hospitals.
North York General Hospital has a nursing vacancy rate of 8.6 per cent “which includes vacancies associated with internal transfers, turnover, and our ‘over-hiring’ strategy to proactively address staffing pressures associated with sick time and other leaves of absence,” a spokesperson said.
Unity Health reported a 13 per cent vacancy rate for nurses in June, rising to 15 per cent in June and July.
The nursing vacancy rate at SHN was a little lower over the past three months — 9.0 per cent; Michael Garron Hospital’s nursing vacancy rate was just 2.7 per cent.
“Like all hospitals, North York General Hospital (NYGH) is experiencing significant strain due to the health human resource shortages and related issues that have been widely reported,” a spokesperson said.
— with files from The Canadian Press