Ontario hospitals to get $90 million to tackle hallway medicine: health minister

Ontario hospitals are set to receive a $90-million cash infusion ahead of the fall flu season, to help prevent patients from having to be treated in hospital hallways.

Health Minister Christine Elliott revealed the details to health-care stakeholders at a meeting on Tuesday, with an official announcement expected to be made on Wednesday.

The money will help Premier Doug Ford make good on a campaign promise to end “hallway medicine” by creating “surge capacity” to help ease hospital gridlock.

CTV News Toronto has learned the province plans to fund 1,100 hospital beds, including 655 new beds and 450 existing spaces.

Sources say this is separate from a campaign promise to create 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years.

In a statement, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) welcomed the “significant” investment that will help the health system’s ability to care for patients this winter.

"Ontario hospitals appreciate the government's timely action in responding to the immediate capacity challenges within the health care system," said Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the OHA.

The organization said this past July, when occupancy levels are typically low, one in six hospital beds was being used by a patient who could be receiving care elsewhere (like a home care or long-term care facility).

The demand for space is expected to increase through the fall and into the new year.

The OHA noted the health-care system is under “enormous pressure,” pointing to last year’s flu season which left patients being cared for in “hallways, boardrooms and other unconventional spaces that are not conducive to high-quality patient care.”

That is something 78-year-old Barbara Dombrower, who is suffering from stage 4 cancer, experienced firsthand recently.

Dombrower was admitted to the emergency room at Sunnybrook hospital on Sept. 23, where she was diagnosed with an acute sodium deficiency. She spent two days in the intensive care unit before she was transferred out. According to her family, she was supposed to go to the oncology unit, but was placed in a stretcher in a hallway of the surgical oncology ward.

Her family said they were told the next morning that Dombrower would not be provided a room as she was not a patient of the surgical ward.

Dombrower spent a second night in the hallway before being placed in a room after her husband wrote numerous letters to hospital administration.

“I thought it was horrible. It was awful. It was the worst experience of my life,” Dombrower told CTV News Toronto. “I thought I was going to die.”

Dombrower’s husband, Denny, noted that the situation was making her uncomfortable and that she saw her health deteriorate while she was in the hallway.

He also told CTV News Toronto that the family received a typed letter from Sunnybrook Hospital explaining why Dombrower was being treated in the hallway.

The letter explained the hospital was facing “high occupancy pressures.”

“If the clinical team has determined you are stable and eligible, you may be safely moved from your room to the hallway of the unit to make room for an admitted patient who is more acutely ill and waiting for the next available bed to be ready,” the letter read. “We know this may cause some inconvenience, but it is necessary to help ensure we are able to care for all patients who are acutely ill or injured.”

The letter was signed by the Executive Vice President of Sunnybrook and the Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety.

“(They said) it will not affect your medical care, well it did,” Denny Dombrower said.

Dr. Dan Cass, the chief medical executive at Sunnybrook, told CTV News Toronto that the hospital sometimes has to treat people in “non-traditional spaces.”

“We are very sorry for the experience that she had,” Cass said. “At that period of time, the occupancy level was well above 100 percent and it was approaching 120 percent at the hospital,” he said.

The Dombrower family hopes that no patient has to spend that much time in the hallway of a hospital.

“I don’t want it to happen to anybody,” Dombrower said. “It’s just not fair. Young, old, (you) cannot treat people this way.

- With files from CTV News Toronto's Janice Golding and Katherine DeClerq