Auditor’s report: A remedy for ailing hospitals

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Tue Dec 07 2010.

Emergency rooms are overcrowded with people waiting to been seen by a doctor — often because beds are full with patients waiting for admission to other hospital wards. Yet, at the same time, 50,000 Ontarians spent more days in hospital beds than they needed to last year because of delays in discharging them and accessing community services, such as a long-term care beds.

The annual report by Ontario’s auditor general, Jim McCarter, provides the latest troubling picture of a hospital system operating well below the efficiency that patients and taxpayers deserve. Patients arriving at a hospital are supposed to be assessed within 15 minutes; but at three GTA hospitals, some waited more than one hour. And in half the cases reviewed, triage nurses underestimated the severity of the patient’s injury or illness.

McCarter’s review did find some encouraging developments: one hospital started discharging patients earlier in the day to coincide with the daily rush of new admissions. All Ontario hospitals should follow such best practices.

With Ontario’s high hospital bed occupancy rates, new patients often gain admission only when another patient (who no longer needs acute hospital care) is discharged. That means long-term care homes must adapt their procedures (most currently refuse admissions on the weekend); and homecare services must be expanded to accommodate the 10,000 people on wait-lists.

To its credit, the Liberal government has shown that through focused funding and targets it can reduce surgical wait times. Indeed, its efforts to reduce emergency wait times are starting to take effect. For minor conditions the wait is just above the 4-hour target. For complex cases, wait times have also come down, but, at up to 12 hours, it is still well above the 8-hour target.

At a time of deficits and continually soaring health budgets, the government must get the most from the health care system. Time is short. The problems identified now will put massive pressure on Ontario’s finances when the number of seniors doubles in the next two decades.

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