Doug Ford failed to fix hallway medicine

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Last Thursday, as news outlets declared Doug Ford prime minister for a second term, I watched closely as he delivered on one of his key promises from the 2018 election: to eliminate ‘hallway medicine’. .

I spent over 12 hours in the emergency room at Trafalgar Memorial Hospital in Oakville waiting to see a doctor. From what I’ve seen, it’s no exaggeration to say that Ford didn’t pull it off.

It would be hard to see much difference between now and 2018: the relentless pressure on nurses and doctors; the tedious waiting of patients; information black hole.

All are hallmarks of hallway medicine.

It starts at the front door. Incoming patients are mixed in a line to be sorted. No one gets preferential treatment, not the elderly woman in a wheelchair, the little girl of about six, or the man and his breathless adult son.

We all wait quietly and patiently before being sent to the next stage – the AB zone. Getting there takes you into another hallway, one lined with a dozen or more people on waiting stretchers. And wait.

First responders lean against a wall, waiting to see their patient through the process. One of them says he should take a picture and send it to Ford. Nobody laughs, but the irony is hard to miss.

There are still more people on stretchers in the AB area, lined up in front of the nursing station that appears to be Ground Zero. Nurses, doctors and support staff walk in and out, answer patient questions and direct traffic.

Every once in a while, a nurse pushes into the overflowing waiting room to take someone’s temperature or blood pressure or just check on someone’s well-being.

About 30 people are slumped in chairs, staring at screens, snoring, staring at a silent wall or TV screen, wishing they were somewhere other than here.

There are hours left, and some give up. “Please notify a nurse…if you decide to leave,” reads a paper sign taped to the station window.

Leaving hospital and medical care in frustration speaks volumes about the ills of Ontario’s health care and hospital system.

This criticism is echoed by those providing care. I spoke informally to doctors, nurses and support staff. All said the same thing: the overwhelming pressure of the pandemic on healthcare workers never let up, never let up.

To deal with the onslaught of the pandemic, Oakville Trafalgar created a top-floor “field hospital” with makeshift rooms among cement pillars, wiring, pipes and HVAC. The grip of the pandemic has loosened but the field hospital is still being used to handle the constant overflow of patients.

A young nurse told me that nights where people have to wait 12 or 14 hours to see a doctor are the new normal. They thought the pandemic crush would end. This is not the case.

The pandemic has revealed just how fragile Ontario’s healthcare system and hospitals can be. While Oakville Trafalgar — one of the province’s newest and best-equipped hospitals — is still under pressure, other older hospitals are feeling even more pressure.

Unions and healthcare professionals have already sounded the alarm over the potential crisis in hospitals.

At the end of our conversation, the young woman declared that she had been breastfeeding for three years. She sighed, said she was already thinking about a career change, then moved on to the next frustrated and tired patient.

She has a job and she has to do it.

The same goes for the prime minister.

Fred Youngs is a former journalist, executive producer and senior director of CBC News

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