Canada’s ER crisis
It’s painful to talk about the collapse of the Canadian healthcare system. Excellent universal health care that treats every citizen equally is a source of great national pride. One of the reasons I love being Canadian is because I know that a new immigrant with few resources is entitled to the same medical treatment as a multi-millionaire whose family has been in Canada for generations. Whenever I hear about the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs that my American friends pay for medical expenses, I feel a little smug.
So, I admit, I’ve been slow to accept that our system is crumbling. We’re supposed to be good at this. Canada doesn’t make the best movies, or launch the biggest multinational corporations, or win the most Olympic medals, but we do universal health care well. Right?
A few years ago, when boomers started to complain about their long wait times for knee and hip replacements, I figured that there was a backlog, a wrinkle in the system, and it would get ironed out. But it didn’t. Then “hallway health care” became a common phrase. I heard from friends and family members who were being parked in crowded emergency-room corridors for hours. Now emergency departments nationwide are temporarily closing because they don’t have enough staff to care for patients. It’s no longer possible to pretend this is just a little hiccup.
In Ontario, where I live, emergency departments have been temporarily closing since the summer. These ERs are mostly in rural areas, but some smaller cities have been hit too. In the fall, the Toronto Star published a story reporting that emergency departments in Ontario have shut down at least 86 times since July. Some closed overnight, while other shutdowns lasted weeks. Patients were diverted to other hospitals, many kilometres away.
Alan Drummond is an emergency care physician at Great War Memorial hospital, located an hour southwest of Ottawa in Perth, Ontario. He’s been practising for 39 years and he’s seen a lot. Last summer, he watched in despair as his hospital’s ER was forced to close for over three weeks.
Drummond has reached an age where he feels comfortable speaking his mind. He isn’t concerned about optics or pleasing hospital administrators. He loves medicine and he’s troubled by the current crisis. He wants you to know how bad things are. On Twitter, and in TV interviews, he’s frank about what’s happening in hospitals across the province. When editors at Maclean’s asked him to write about his experience, he eagerly accepted the opportunity.
His story is a passionate cri de coeur that sometimes reads like a horror novel. It’s also hugely informative. Drummond is deep in the trenches of emergency care, but he also has a sophisticated, bird’s-eye view of the systemic failures that have led to this moment in Canadian history.
Listening to his voice, and to voices like his, is the first step in fixing our problems—and, I hope, restoring pride in our national healthcare system.
To read the full feature, click HERE.