‘It’s looney’: Wait time trackers not the solution to overcrowded emergency rooms

Lakeridge Health in Durham Region has launched a wait time tracker for its emergency rooms. While helpful, advocates say the government needs to address the root causes of the surging wait times at Ontario’s hospitals. Tina Yazdani reports.

By Tina Yazdani and John Marchesan

Lakeridge Health in Durham region has launched a wait time tracker for its emergency room, the latest tool to try and address spiking delays patients are facing at Ontario hospitals.

While the tracker gives the public an estimate of ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>how long the wait will be at the four hospitals across the region, hospital officials themselves admit it doesn’t address the underlying issues that are creating those long wait times.

“We have a staffing crisis, the likes of which we have never seen, no exaggeration,” said Natalie Mehra, the Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

The wait times are refreshed every 30 minutes and its not intended for people with life-threatening emergencies, who will be seen immediately.

“Can you imagine a flight that says it’s going to take off at some point rather than giving you an actual departure time,” explains Ilan Lenga, Chief Information Officer at Lakeridge Health.

“The actual wait times in ED are, of course, not solved by having a tracker. This is more about transparency to our public.”

A leaked report on hospital emergency room statistics from Ontario Health revealed that August hospital wait times were the worst they’ve ever been compared to any other August, and that wait times rose even as the number of patients fell.

The data showed for nine out of 10 patients, the wait time for an initial assessment by a doctor in emergency is up 50 per cent from pre-pandemic to 4.9 hours while the length of stay in emergency rooms for patients being admitted to hospital but waiting for beds was up 44 hours.


“It’s a rolling disaster and it just has to end,” says Mehra. “We need to restore hospital capacity and deal with the staffing crisis. Apps and all of that stuff is just kind of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point.”

In a statement to CityNews the Ministry of Health says in part, “Once fully implemented, the next phase of the Plan to Stay Open will add up to 6,000 more health care workers to Ontario’s health workforce, and free up over 2,500 hospital beds so that care is there for those who need it.”

But advocates say 6,000 more workers is not nearly enough.

“It’s a ludicrous statement. It just underlines how little they’re doing,” says Mehra. “We’re about 50,000 staff short. That’s nurses, health professionals, and PSWs.

“It is negligent on the part of the Ford government to do so little in the face of this crisis.”

One solution she suggests is to launch a recruitment strategy with financial incentives to bring back retired staff for four to five years in order to train new staff to replace them.

Another is to repeal Bill 124 which caps wage increases for public sector workers at one per cent annually.

“Their workloads are beyond anything anyone has ever seen, and we have wage restraint legislation? And refuse to take it out even as there’s a mass exodus of those workers? It’s looney.”

Other hospitals have implemented a similar wait time clock including Markham Stouffville Hospital and the William Osler Health Network in Peel, which became the latest to warn of long wait times this weekend.

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