Ontario’s Health Care Crisis

National headlines were made on Tuesday, April 27, when a medical team of 3 doctors and 6 nurse volunteers landed by military transport in Toronto from Newfoundland. Ontario’s COVID overwhelmed health care system is seeking outside help from other provinces and even from out of the country. We are on the edge of a health care crisis in Ontario.

Living in Canada’s largest and one of its wealthiest provinces we are lead to believe that we are blessed with an envied world-class health care system.  But that health care system is in serious trouble.

Signs of impending crisis were evident last year. Personal Protective Equipment PPE, the basic tools of protection for health care providers were in short supply. Medical staff were reusing masks and face shields. Their safety was at risk, putting our entire health system at risk too. Residents in long-term care were dying in large numbers and personal care workers, nurses, and doctors were unable to stem the tide.

The health care system was simply not prepared properly for a pandemic, especially one the magnitude of COVID-19.

Slowly we have made strides against the disease. A vaccine is thankfully now available as are sufficient PPE. Canadians. But the crush of the pandemic’s third wave is overwhelming the system. Doctors and nurses, RPNs, and PSWs are all exhausted and stressed out from over a year of going full out to protect and care for us. They are calling in sick and burning out, some are even leaving the system altogether.

Chances are it may get worse before it gets better.

The government saw this coming though. In September 2020 Ontario’s Conservative government announced, “the Ontario government is investing $52.5 million to recruit, retain and support over 3,700 more frontline health care workers. This is when the Ford government conceded finally that the province was in a second wave of COVID-19.

The chase for new frontline health care workers was on.

Canadian nursing schools are seeing a surge in interest amid the pandemic, but experts warn it may not be enough to alleviate the shortage of people working in the profession. It’s hard to get more teaching staff to train new nurses, or to enlarge educational facilities and provide openings for new students quickly. It takes time to make the change.

So just where and when you are getting new staff in frontline positions? Hence the call for out-of-province and out-of-country health care workers.

The seeds of this health staffing crisis were sown many years ago. There has been a public outcry for years that Ontario is underfunding its health care for 2 decades. As recently as 2019 The Toronto Star reported that Ontario’s healthcare spending was well below the average of the other 10 provinces.

Decades of underfunding the province’s health care means, not enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough support, not enough hospital beds available. Then a pandemic shows up and no wonder there is suddenly a health care staffing crisis.

Worse yet, after a year of COVID-19,  a third wave hits, and case counts, hospital admissions, and numbers in ICU beds reach the highest numbers yet.

Ontario’s Deputy Health Minister Helen Angus wrote to all of her counterparts across the country about the strained hospital capacity in Ontario due to the deadly pandemic. She said the province is “urgently” looking for health human resources and asked her counterparts if they could send mostly ICU nurses and other healthcare professionals to Ontario to assist these overwhelmed hospitals.

The ONA Ontario Nurses Association’s website is telling members “ the ONA is closely monitoring this situation, and has initiated a special task force to monitor and respond to the threat of the coronavirus.” They are asking nurses to email the government to “Ensure health-care professionals have proper PPE, including N95s.”

Additionally, the ONA is asking all members to email  Doug Ford and his team the following:

“We are at a crucial moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. We determine our collective future based on what we do next. Hundreds of lives have been lost as a result of this pandemic. On a daily basis, positive cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported and we have yet to see a sustained decline.

This pandemic is not over. We have a limited supply of vaccines. We continue to hear reports from the front lines of a lack of proper PPE, including N95 respirators. Employers continue to deny the requests of registered nurses and healthcare professionals for proper PPE that enables them to provide care safely to their patients, residents, and clients. All of this and the push to re-open the economy puts lives at risk.”

It sounds like our government says one thing to the populace and does the other when it comes to protecting the lives of our medical care professionals.

This is not the story the government wants Ontario to hear. Nor is it the reality that we in Ontario, with supposedly the world’s best health care system wish to face.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is exploring several different options to boost hospital capacity and staffing levels as variants of concern wreak havoc on the province. “The hospitals have been instructed to ramp down all surgeries except the ones that are absolutely life-and-death matters,” she told a news conference.

Elliot also said that Ontario would add hundreds of critical care beds this week, free up pediatric units for adult patients and hire nursing students to help deal with an influx of COVID-19 cases that is pushing the healthcare system to the brink.

We are in yet another lockdown, face increasing infection numbers, and now too a health care staffing crisis and short of acute care beds.

What have we learned?

Thankfully we are now getting millions of doses of vaccine being made available weekly. But post-pandemic our lives will be different. Thousands of surgeries will be in the backlog. That means we will still need doctors, nurses, and hospital beds at the ready. Our health care crisis will not be over. Not yet. If anything we have learned that health care needs an infusion. A dollar infusion.

Let us hope there is a public outcry to the government to ensure that more of our support and tax dollars flow into health care.

If we are to have a world-class health system for our populace then we must ensure that our doctors and nurses and other health providers have the absolute best in support, staffing, equipment, and our deepest appreciation for the dangerous, difficult, and thankless task they perform for us and that the pandemic has proved we so desperately need.

Tony Hayton
While a teenager Tony was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue his love of aviation and began a career began in the airline world during his days in high school and university as he grew up in Toronto. After completing University at Guelph he moved to Ottawa, following a path in urban agriculture and environmental awareness. He shared his insights for over 2 decades as he appeared on TV, and radio, as the "Plant D octor", and operating his own business in horticulture. Later he reentered the transport industry and became involved in the manufacture and marketing of sustainable fuel-saving and safety products for the truck industry. He is director of an African American art collection based in Washington D.C. Today he writes passionately about transportation, sustainability, concerns of our modern-day world, and the intrigue of the human condition.