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As Ontario faces its ‘perfect storm’ — COVID, RSV and flu season — here’s what doctors are asking the government to do


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As Ontario faces its ‘perfect storm’ — COVID, RSV and flu season — here’s what doctors are asking the government to do

The cracks in Ontario’s health-care system have become chasms — and there are three things the government can do right now to reduce the strain hospitals are facing, says the Ontario Medical Association.

Hospitals are facing the “perfect storm” of COVID-19, influenza season and a surge in RSV cases among children, along with supply-chain issues and a doctor shortage, said Dr. Rod Lim, medical director for the pediatric emergency department at Children’s Hospital in London.

“Right now, the pediatric system is under a significant strain at all levels due to the amplification of these seasonal pressures. … We are seeing tremendous numbers of patients coming in with respiratory illnesses, whether it’s RSV or influenza or COVID-19,” Lim said.

There are three actions the government can immediately undertake to ease the burden on the health-care system, said Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association, at a media availability Wednesday.

The first recommendation is to provide mechanisms to license more doctors who have trained internationally to practise in Ontario. While work is already underway, it could be hastened.

“We are working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, our regulator, around what a practice-ready assessment would look like, so that those physicians could enter the health-care system on par with those of us physicians who are licensed to work here in Ontario,” Zacharias said.

The second challenge is around a surgical backlog. Zacharias said roughly a million surgeries, including hip, knee, cataract and hernia surgeries were “put on the shelf” during the pandemic.

“Those patients waiting for those surgeries are getting sicker, coming back to the emergency department. … We need to do those surgeries. And so a solution that we’re recommending is the implementation of integrated ambulatory care centres to offload the hospitals of these very important but lesser complex lesser emergent surgeries,” Zacharias said.

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Integrated ambulatory centres are standalone units that would work in partnership with local hospitals to provide publicly funded, OHIP-insured medical services, including surgeries, on an outpatient basis.

Less complex surgeries, including cataract surgeries, hernia repairs, hip, knee, ear, nose and throat surgeries are among the procedures that could be moved from hospitals to these centres, the OMA says.

Finally, they are recommending more investment in community care, especially hospice and palliative care beds, which they say could reduce pressure in emergency departments when patients don’t have anywhere else to go.

“When a patient is sick in hospital and needs to be there for that period of their acute illness, that is extremely reasonable and appropriate. And yet when they’re ready to be moved to the community, they find themselves not having a bed to be placed into,” Zacharias said.

More community care beds would have a “a trickle down positive effect,” resulting in fewer patients being admitted into emergency rooms for extended periods, which is not their original intended purpose, Zacharias said.

It’s imperative the government moves swiftly to address the challenges in the health-care system, Zacharias said, especially as we move into what is expected to be an extremely challenging winter season.

“We have compassionate, resilient, high-capacity health-care providers showing up at their workplaces every day with the intention to care for patients,” Zacharias said. “And yet our health-care system has cracks that have been exposed as a result of the pandemic strain, and they’re chasms, really, now. And we’re feeling it.”

Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh

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