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'Overwhelmed': Southlake one of province's most overcrowded hospitals

Patients share stories of waiting for hours and hours in the hospital's overcrowded emergency department amid ongoing shortage of staff, beds, wheelchairs

Waiting hours and hours for admission — even 24 hours while in a chair in one case — is not uncommon in the emergency department at Southlake Regional Health Centre, one of Ontario's most overcrowded hospitals. 

Newmarket residents Kim Davis said she has seen the worsening situation firsthand while accompanying her husband, who needs regular treatment and admission for an ongoing blood infection and liver issue almost every two weeks at the Newmarket hospital.

He sat in a wheelchair for 15 hours waiting to be admitted on their last visit to the emergency department.

"They're bursting at the seams. We have a growing population and it's only going to get worse, not better," Davis said. 

In all the times they have been there, they have seen the shortage of beds, stretchers and wheelchairs due to the amount of people coming in. 

During one visit,  she describes making a bed out of blankets on the floor for an elderly man who they didn't have a place for. 

"I just couldn't believe it," she said. 

Vivian Puentes has also seen the desperately overcrowded situation in emergency, too.

She has visited the emergency unit three times this year, first with her younger sister who broke a finger, then for her daughter who was experiencing stomach pain, and the final time she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance while experiencing severe pain and vomiting. 

She waited in a chair for almost 24 hours while still in pain, she said, and eventually required surgery. 

"They never offered me a bed or anything and I was very bad. And nobody was checking on me or anything," she said. "It was very frustrating because I was in a lot of pain and I feel that they don't really care." 

On her previous visits, Puentes said they also waited hours to be seen. 

"They are overwhelmed. I feel that they don't have enough staff ... and they are working just so much you because we can see that they are busy, going around and everything," she said. 

Another resident shared his experience on Twitter that recently his 91-year-old grandmother sat in emergency for 13 hours before she got a bed in the hallway and in total was there for more than 23 hours. 

On average, patients spent 18.9 hours in emergency while waiting to be admitted according to Ontario Health data for March — which is well above the provincial target time of eight hours. 

While Southlake is the top hospital in the province for emergency wait times for assessment, it's a different story entirely if admission is required.

On average, patients at the Newmarket hospital's emergency department waited 0.6 hours, or about 36 minutes, for their first assessment by a doctor, according to Ontario Health data in March — well below the provincial average of 1.9 hours for the first assessment. 

On average, the entire length of stay for low-urgency patients who aren't admitted is 2.2 hours, while the entire length of stay for high-urgency patients not admitted is 3.4 hours. 

In a statement on behalf of Southlake, spokesperson Danae Theakston confirmed there are overcrowding challenges. 

"With no significant acute care capital expansion in 20 years, Southlake has become one of the most overcrowded hospitals in Ontario. Since 2003, the number of patients treated in the emergency department has nearly doubled and the hospital is regularly overcapacity as we struggle to transition and discharge patients to the most appropriate care setting as a result of limited resources in the community," she said. 

"That’s why we continue to advocate for additional support from the provincial government to transform Southlake into a leading two-site hospital system by building a new hospital and redeveloping our existing campus to meet our patients’ needs," she said. 

Davis agreed that changes need to be made to better support Southlake. She added that she thinks the staff are doing their best and in all the times she has been there lately, everyone has been caring and attentive despite the obvious challenges. 

"It's difficult for the doctors and nurses. It's difficult for the people that come in there and they feel our health-care system ... has just got out of hand. It's really bad right now," she said. "I think that the government needs to step up." 

She has already reached out to federal MP Tony Van Bynen and is going to reach out to more politicians at the provincial level to share her concerns for Southlake. 

"It's got to start somewhere," she said. 


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Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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