*Opinion* Overrun hospitals are not a Covid issue – the problem is not new

By: Gregory Staley

Many Canadians have naively bought into the premise that Covid has caused our hospitals to be overrun with sick patients – filling them to capacity because the illness it causes is so severe. However, the truth is much more unsettling – Canada’s hospitals have often been overrun during the winter months or “flu season” and this problem spans backs at least a decade.

In this article, I will demonstrate my point by quoting archived articles from the CBC, CTV and Global news respectively. I will use these articles to demonstrate that Canada’s hospitals from coast to coast have often struggled with capacity issues due to spikes from ILI’s or influenza-like illnesses during the winter seasons and sometimes even during the summer months.

2011 – patients transferred from Ontario hospitals in flu response

In 2011 CTV wrote an article that I will introduce so that you can understand that transferring patients during flu season isn’t a new occurrence as politicians are now leading Canadians to believe. In 2011 CTV wrote that Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said that “some hospitals that can’t take any more patients are transferring people to other hospitals.”

According to the CTV article, Health Minister Deb Matthews also said that “hospitals are doing everything they can to prevent the postponement of surgeries as the flu season tightens its grip on Ontario.”

2013 – “hospitals overwhelmed with flu and norovirus patients

In 2013 CTV wrote an article titled “Hospitals overwhelmed by flu and norovirus patients” that said, “as both the flu and the stomach infection norovirus sweep across Canada, hospitals all over the country say they are being pushed to the limit.” The article goes on to describe the state of various province’s hospitals across the country.

In describing the situation of Calgary and Edmonton hospitals the CTV article said that “many Edmonton hospitals are operating at more than 100 percent capacity because of the surge of patients needing admission.” The article added that “In Calgary, occupancy is above 100 percent in major hospitals and over 100 percent on certain medical units.”

2014 – “Nasty H3N2 flu season worsens as cases rise across Canada”

In 2014 Global News reported that “In some parts of Canada, cities have reported overcrowding in emergency rooms. The holiday season didn’t help either – walk-in clinics were closed.” They continued by saying that Montreal health officials “opened seven flu clinics across the island in response to the high number of patients showing up to hospitals with flu or flu-like symptoms.”

According to Dr. Jacques Ricard, the director of services at Sante Montreal at the time of the article “about 10 percent of people who go to the hospital emergency rooms” had flu-like symptoms.

2017 – “Christy Clark blames Abbotsford Hospital problems on ‘bad flu season’”

This article by Global News opens with “Premier Christy Clark is blaming the issue of overcrowded emergency rooms, like the one seen at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, on a bad flu season.” The Global News article says that the “B.C. Nurses’ Union described the emergency room at Abbotsford Hospital as a “war zone” or something out of a scene from M*A*S*H.”

Gayle Duteil the President of the Union at the time of writing said that “The nurses are consistently stretched, they are stressed, they are working 16-hour shifts, they are working without breaks, they’re tripping over people,” the President continued “the ambulance bay was full of patients. I saw a number of psychiatric patients being held in chairs designed for seniors. It was very, very shocking and I could see how difficult this was for the nurses who were there.”

2017 – “Ontario hospitals sounding alarm over potential flu season ‘capacity crisis'”

In 2017 the CBC wrote about Ontario hospitals sounding the alarm over a potential flu season ‘capacity crisis’. The article said that ” Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) said wait times recorded this summer were the highest since the province began tracking nine years ago, and on par with the peak flu season wait times normally seen in January and February.” That’s a scary thought isn’t it – hospital wait times in the summer of 2017 were on par with flu season wait times that are normally seen at the peak of the flu season in January and February. Do you think this problem has gotten better or worse since 2017?

OHA President and CEO Anthony Dale wrote in a statement that “Many hospitals have operated through the summer under very unusual and worrying surge conditions.” At St. Michael’s hospital in downtown Toronto, the article said that 30-40 extra patients were being admitted compared to the average of the summer. Those patients had to wait “up to 28 hours for a bed, around eight hours more than usual.” So the usual wait time for a bed at that hospital in Toronto was approximately 20 hours – imagine an elderly person with breathing issues waiting for a bed.

2018 – “Hospitals say spike in flu cases across GTA leading to ‘dangerous’ overcrowding”

In 2018 Global news wrote that “A number of doctors, nurses and administrators at hospitals across the GTA confirmed to Global News there has been a surge of patients on top of a system that is already operating at or over 100 percent capacity.” So to reiterate that – hospitals were already operating at or over 100 percent of their capacity in 2018.

Global News added that they learnt that “at some hospitals, the term “pre-pandemic” has even been used.” The article added that “between the first and second weeks of 2018 alone, the number of confirmed flu cases in the province has risen to 1,194 from 861.” ER, doctor Brett Belchetz told Global News that “it’s a spike the city’s emergency rooms can’t bear.” So a spike of a few hundred people is enough to overwhelm the entire system in areas.

The article said that Global News visited multiple emergency rooms to get a better understanding of the effects the flu was having on the cities hospitals. The article said that “In video from one emergency room, not only was every single room full but patients lined the hallways and were being treated in both gurneys and in chairs.” The article added that “similar conditions were observed in other hospitals.”

ER doctor Brett Belchetz told Global “you see patients being treated in the hallway with regularity and often that is just a choice we have to make — provide no care or provide hallway care.” Well isn’t that quote enlightening? Again, this isn’t a new problem to Canada – it’s a systematic problem that’s been here for years. We lack the capacity required to deal with a spike or influx of patients due to a viral illness.

2018 – “Montreal emergency rooms crowded as flu cases spike in time for holiday season”

In 2018 Global News released an article detailing the crowded emergency rooms in Montreal as flu cases spiked “in time for the holiday season.” Speaking about the Montreal Children’s Hospital Emergency Department on Christmas Eve Day, Dr. Dominic Chalut said “right now, it’s very busy. We can have up to 100 patients waiting in the waiting room to be seen,” he told Global News. “Waiting times can be up to 12 hours.”

The article also added that hospitals all over the city were seeing their emergency departments overrun:

“Emergency rooms all over the city are dealing with high numbers. As of Dec. 24 at 10 a.m., the most overcrowded was the Lasalle Hospital emergency room at 140 percent capacity. The Jewish General Hospital ER was at 136 percent capacity, and the Royal Victoria ER was at 130 percent capacity.” Again, does this sound like a new issue or a reoccurring one?

In closing

As the President of the Ontario Hospital Association said ” the root of today’s capacity challenge is that far too many frail, elderly patients can’t get access to the care they really need outside the hospital setting.” If that’s the case what has changed in the years since these articles were written? The ageing population in Canada has only become more aged leaving them more vulnerable. So have we increased the healthcare options to these elders outside of the emergency room? Not enough to make any sort of notable impact. Currently, Canada’s senior population accounts for over 17% of its total population according to Stats Canada.

The purpose of writing this article was to attempt to get people to look at the issue of Covid outside of the vacuum of doom and gloom as it has been presented to the Canadian people. Covid is most certainly an issue in the elderly – but it is something that predominantly affects an older population (65+). You can find outliers of younger people who have passed away with Covid just like you can with Influenza. In fact, you’ll find more young people pass from influenza than from Covid.

This doesn’t mean we should shut down our economy or fundamentally change the way we operate our society. It does mean we should protect the most vulnerable and create capacity for surges in hospitals as experts have been warning officials of for many years.

We have allowed our politicians to create a moral panic. The most important thing in our society is now Covid. All other matters of public concern now pale in comparison to Covid. Overrun hospitals have been an ongoing issue for many years and now the fault is being squarely placed on the shoulders of “selfish Canadians” who dare speak out against an ever evolving narrative that has continually shifted the goalposts.

We can not look at Covid in a vacuum. Lost jobs today will mean less tax income for tomorrow. Less tax income will lead to higher taxes and eventually service cuts. This could mean that the policies designed to protect us from Covid could ultimately lead to a more susceptible healthcare system in the future. Let us not forget that in the midst of a “pandemic” the Ontario government allowed 97 nurses at Sunny Brooke hospital to be laid off.

Ultimately lockdowns don’t work. The Lancet published a study in August of 2020 indicating this where they said “Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people.” In addition, the Toronto Sun published an article that detailed the loss of life that has occurred from lockdowns.

The Toronto Sun article was on a research paper by Simon Fraser University Economics Professor Douglas W. Allen. In that paper, Mr. Allen said that “the benefit of lockdown, therefore, was the avoidance of this extra 22,333 years of lost life. However, the cost of lockdown… was 6,300,000 years of lost life.”

Lockdowns have been catastrophic and they need to end. We can protect the most vulnerable without masking healthy people and without locking down young healthy individuals. Just in case you want to jump down my throat on that last comment and talk about asymptomatic spread – let me just reference the following study.

Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents of Wuhan, China

The study tested roughly 10 million residents with the PCR test. The study said that “virus cultures were negative for all asymptomatic positive and repositive cases, indicating no “viable virus” in positive cases detected in this study.” To clarify, roughly 10 million people were tested in this study and 300 came back with “positive” PCR tests. Upon further testing there was 0 viable virus in all of the asymptomatic cases. The threat of asymptomatic spread has been vastly overstated in my opinion.

The harm of these decisions cannot be understated – especially when you consider over-run healthcare in Canada is not a new issue but an old one that’s been rebranded because of Covid.

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Published by Greg Staley

Greg Staley is a husband, and a father to 3 beautiful girls. He is a concerned citizen who is closely watching his government's actions through critical thinking, and assessment of all qualified and relevant data. He believes in going to the Primary sources of data at all times if possible.