Alert status red as Brampton declares “health care emergency”

By: Surjit Singh Flora

Care, not cuts, should be driving Brampton’s healthcare system, a coalition of doctors and residents told Brampton council Wednesday.

The city’s ongoing battle for provincial healthcare funding in the face of rapid population growth and chronic underfunding led to councillors approving a motion that declared a “healthcare emergency” at its most recent meeting.

The motion, brought forward by Wards 9 & 10 city councillor Harkirat Singh and unanimously passed by council, states that the city declare an emergency for its healthcare system, and that city staff liaise with from the federal and provincial government and representatives from William Osler Health System (WOHS) to grant urgent healthcare funding, ensure that the  emergency department at Brampton Civic Hospital receive an additional 850 beds and adequate inpatient services, and ensure that the hospital bed count is equivalent to the provincial average per capita.

“As physicians, you’re powerful advocates. You see the front lines…. your story, unfortunately, is common,” said Brown. “We’re all doing our best to chip in, but at the end of the day, we need the province to step up.”

“There’s no frustration I hear more often in the city than people telling me horror stories (about Brampton hospitals),” said Mayor Patrick Brown, addressing Dr.’s Kulvinder Gill and Ashvinder Lamba, and local resident Sanjay Madgal who spoke about the challenges alleviating pressures on local hospitals.

Bringing the motion forward was absolutely essential, because the city’s “hallway medicine” crisis and overcrowding is constantly used as an example of what health care crises look like nationally, said Singh. “Brampton deserves its fair share and our residents deserve the basic right of having access to adequate health care.”

Last month, councillors passed a resolution that recognized the urgent needs of the city’s health care system, including major funding gaps, long wait times, and hallway medicine. The resolution requested immediate action from all health care system providers.

The city has conducted a number of advocacy campaigns to bring awareness to the issue of overcrowding and funding concerns over the last few years, including last year’s #FairDealForBrampton petition, keynote speeches at major conferences including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual meeting, and support of major fundraisers like Hockey Night in Brampton, which helped raise funds to purchase new medical equipment for Brampton Civic and Peel Memorial.

So far, the petition has generated over 18,000 signatures from local residents voicing their support, but much more must be done, not only to provide support and funding for the hospital as the city grows, but to get residents motivated to voice their concerns before a family member ends up with substandard health care.

“Until you deal with it, it’s not an issue… but as soon as that happens to you, it is an issue,” said Wards 3&4 city councillor Jeff Bowman. “(Hospital funding) is critical, and has been critical for ten-years plus. We need to get more angry about it.”

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, founder of Concerned Ontario Doctors (COD) and a Brampton physician who operates her own private practice, says the existing, multi-tiered health-care system with layers of padded bureaucracy has been putting patient care on the back burner.

The Urgent Care Centre at the new Peel Memorial site, which opened in 2017, was built to accommodate 10,000 patients per year and is already operating at 587 per cent above capacity, seeing more than 75,000 patients each year.

The second phase of the new Peel Memorial Hospital has been approved, but is only in the early planning stages and remains many years away from completion. Gill said the 200 beds slated for the site fall well short of the 850 needed to bring Brampton up to the provincial average, with many ending up on waitlists for weeks or months at a time to see specialists.

“Access to a waitlist is not access to medical care,” said Gill, who noted that more than a million in the province do not have access to a family doctor.

Brampton features the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Ontario at 0.9 beds per resident compared to the provincial average of 2.3 beds. Gill added that Brampton receives the lowest per capita funding in the province, at $937 per resident – the second lowest in Canada. The provincial average is approximately $2,000 per resident.

COD accused the Ford government of violating the Canada Health Care Act for not providing adequate funding to meet basic health care needs in Brampton, adding the province cut hours at the Peel Memorial urgent care centre in July 2019.

“The tragic part is that as we continue to be neglected. Our health care crisis continues to escalate as our population growth continues to increase at an astronomical rate,” Gill said, who spoke about the prevalence of “Code Gridlock”, when a hospital has more than 30 or more patients admitted in the ER with no available hospital rooms. In recent months, this has further escalated to dangerous levels and a new term ’Extreme Code Gridlock”’ now refers to more than 50 patients admitted in the ER with no available hospital bed upstairs. ”

“I can’t stress enough that’s what’s impotant to realize is that being in a hallway is not about convenience… but it impacts patient outcomes,” said Gill, who referred to the conditions as “third-world”.

Madgal also spoke about his experiences taking care of his 91-year-old father, who was discharged at Brampton Civic last year after suffering a stroke and losing his mobility. Madgal’s father was later readmitted to the hospital after coming down with pneumonia and died in a hospital hallway.

The experience “eroded my faith in Brampton’s healthcare system,” said Madgal, who urged councillors and the province to act on real solutions and funding. “I hope you make healthcare a top priority… if we can’t take care of our sick, what good are we?”

Gill’s presentation was made on the same day that a scathing CBC News report was released, with data obtained from a Freedom of Information Request revealing that some of the province’s busiest hospitals, including Richmond Hill Hospital, Peterborough Regional Health Centre and Hamilton General Hospital suffered from constant overcrowding and hallway healthcare through the first six months of 2019.

Gill said that the province, including Premier Doug Ford, reduced operating hours for healthcare centres while also increasing operating hours for LCBO stores, alleging that has also given preferential treatment to Osler’s Etobicoke General Hospital due to it being in his home riding. “We can see how important Ontarians’ health is for Premier Ford,” she said.

In a statement issued shortly after council’s motion was passed, Brampton South PC MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria said that the province is commited to protecting health care.

“After years of inaction under the previous Government, hospitals were left underfunded and hallway healthcare had become the norm. Premier Ford and our government have made it clear that we are committed to protecting what matters most – health care.”

Saying “actions speak louder than words”, Sarkaria pointed out investments in mental health supports for local residents and the creation of 325 long-term care beds at sites like the Tullamore Care Community Centre. He also said that he worked with the Ministry of Health to provide Osler with $500,000 to complete a proposal for the planned Phase II development at Peel Memorial.

“Myself and our community eagerly await William Osler’s completion of their Phase II proposal, as this is critical to my advocacy at Queen’s Park for the expansion of Peel Memorial Hospital,” Sarkaria said Wednesday evening.

Bringing the motion forward today was absolutely essential, said Brown.

“Brampton’s hallway medicine and overcrowding is constantly used as an example of what health care crises look like nationally. Brampton deserves its fair share and our residents deserve the basic right of having access to adequate health care.”

About the author

Asia Metro Editor

Surjit Singh Flora

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