London ER waits reach all-time worst for patients needing beds in understaffed psychiatric ward

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Unable to keep pace with patients acutely ill with mental health disorders who sometimes wait days in overcrowded emergency rooms, London’s largest hospital has asked Ontario’s Liberal government for millions of dollars to staff an additional 24 beds in its psychiatric ward, The Free Press has learned.

The crisis has reached epic levels not only at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) but in hospitals across Ontario whose ER waits this summer reached the highest recorded levels since the province began measuring delays nine years ago.

“What we’re seeing in London, we’re seeing across the province, and it’s even worse in some (hospitals) in the GTA,” LHSC chief executive Murray Glendining said this week. “We are seeing unprecedented ER levels for this time of year.”

The London hospital wants enough money to staff an extra 24 psychiatric beds in a facility that now only has funding for 74 beds, an increase of 32 per cent.

In the meantime, LHSC has been robbing from Peter to pay Paul, taking as much as $4 million from elsewhere in its budget to staff additional psychiatric beds.

“We are spending significantly -­ more for mental health beds than in the budget or (what we spent) in the past,” Glendining said.

The plea for cash comes more than three years after ER struggles became front page news when some mentally ill were found sleeping on ER floors in London, some waiting as long as a week for a bed in the psychiatric ward.

London is not alone raising the alarm – earlier this week, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) did the same, warning that ER waits that were already at an all-time high for the summer would only grow longer unless Ontario’s healthy ministry intervened before the traditional surge of psychiatric patients that comes as the calendar winds to an end.

“Many hospitals have operated through the summer under very unusual and worrying surge conditions,” said OHA President and CEO Anthony Dale. “The evidence strongly suggests that even with the 2017 Budget announcement, further investments are urgently needed this fiscal year in order to ensure timely access to services for patients.”

While summer has traditionally been a time when fewer patients need a bed in hospital, both Victoria and University hospitals in London were flooded with patients: At least one of the hospitals, and usually both, had more patients in beds than the hospitals had funding for from August 28 to Sept. 8, data provided by LHSC shows.

But while overcrowded ERs draw headlines, problems there reflect more systemic challenges that need to be addressed, Glendining said.

Too often patients who are ready to be discharged from an acute care bed can’t leave because there is no safe space to send then, he said. While part of that is the result of obvious issues such as a lack of long-term care beds, the problems extend beyond health care itself, including a lack of affordable housing and social supports to help those with mental illness be self-sustaining.

“(Hospitals) are the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “We don’t have enough affordable housing or social supports. It’s probably one of the number one issues in London.”

Glendining believes Ontario’s health ministry understands the bed crunch and is hopeful it will cough up additional funds in the Fall, as it did last year.

DATE Occupancy UH Occupancy VH
August 28 100.9 100.0
August 29 102.7 103.8
August 30 103.3 104.5
August 31 101.2 104.5
September 1 104.5 102.5
September 2 101.5 104.6
September 3 101.8 102.3
September 4 101.5 101.5
September 5 103.3 99.7
September 6 98 101.7
September 7 97.5 100.3
September 8 100.6 103.2
September 9 97.2 98.8
September 10 94 98.8
September 11 93.7 103.5

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