Ontarians tell their hallway medicine stories

Every day, Ontario hospitals put nearly 1,000 patients in what the province’s health ministry calls “unconventional spaces,” such as hallways, meeting rooms and storage areas.

An investigation by CBC News last week revealed the most thorough picture yet of the extent of hallway medicine in the province. 

  • Have you experienced hallway medicine in Ontario? Email us and tell us your story.

Behind all those numbers are the patients affected by hospital overcrowding: waiting more than 24 hours in the emergency department before getting admitted to a bed, spending their hospital stay in a makeshift spot, such as a converted exercise room, or facing repeated delays for surgery because all post-op beds are full.   

Here’s what the experience was like for some of those patients. 

Jennifer Sabine

Food lodged in her esophagus sent Jennifer Sabine to the emergency department at Trillium Health’s Mississauga Hospital one Sunday night last April. She waited until the next afternoon for it to be removed by an endoscopy, and when she emerged from sedation, she was struck by how many patients were in the hospital hallways. 

Jennifer Sabine’s hallway medicine experience at Trillium Health’s Mississauga Hospital provoked concern for the lack of privacy for other patients in the hallway, some of whom she described as really ill. (Submitted)

“I was blown away. I’m walking down the hall and literally it’s just bed against bed against bed,” said Sabine in an interview. “Lined head to toe. It was just chaos. My heart broke for the nurses because it was just crazy.” 

While Sabine’s primary feeing was one of relief that the blockage had been removed, she recalls how she was not in a proper room but in a space divided from others like a cubicle. 

“I just felt really bad for everyone else who was there with more severe issues,” said Sabine. “The other patients in the hallway, some of them were really ill, but there’s just no privacy whatsoever. Some people were crying out in pain or discomfort. It looked not like something you’d see in North America.”

Sabine contacted the CBC to tell her story after seeing the data on hallway medicine last week.  

Rhonda McIntyre

Cobourg resident Rhonda McIntyre broke her arm in early January while ice skating. When it didn’t set properly in its cast, she was scheduled for surgery at Lakeridge Health’s Oshawa General Hospital, which CBC research found was one of the most frequently overcrowded hospitals in Ontario over in the first six months of 2019.

After breaking her arm while skating, Rhonda McIntyre faced repeated delays for surgery this month at Lakeridge Health’s Oshawa General, one of Ontario’s most frequently overcrowded hospitals. (Submitted)

The operation was originally scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 21, and she was told to fast from midnight onward. The hospital called her at 10 a.m. to say it had to be rescheduled for a day later.

On Jan. 22, it took until 4:30 p.m. before she received a call to come for the operation. She made the 50-minute drive, waited more than three hours between the emergency room and the pre-op area, then was told the surgery wouldn’t happen that night either.

McIntyre was instructed to start fasting again from midnight and come back the next day.

“They said to me, ‘There’s just not enough beds,'” McIntyre said in an interview. “‘The doctor can only do so many surgeries and we have to be able to find you a bed,’ that’s what they kept telling me.” 

On Jan. 23, it happened again. She got a call at 1:45 p.m. advising that the surgery would not happen that day either.

“I asked how long this could go on and she said, ‘Up to two weeks,'” McIntyre recounted. “I felt bad for the people who had to deliver all those messages because I could tell it was difficult for them.” 

That evening, McIntyre emailed the hospital’s patient experience team. 

This space at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont. used to be an exercise gym to help patients with physical rehab. Now it is permanently set up as an overflow patient ward, with a makeshift nursing station and beds separated by screens. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

“I’m on day 3 of fasting and am cranky and have a headache,” she wrote.

“I get that there are always more pressing cases but would suggest the system at Lakeridge Health Oshawa is broken, and that this treatment is not at all in keeping with their four core patient experience principles of Dignity and Respect, Communication/Information Sharing, Collaboration and Participation.”

The next morning, Friday Jan. 24, she received an emailed apology from the hospital and a call to come for surgery. She went into the operating room around 4 p.m.

McIntyre says that’s when the surgeon asked when the fracture happened, and because it had been so long, had to change the type of surgery that was to be performed.

“They actually had to cut into my wrist, re-break my arm and use a plate and screw,” she said.  

“It’s definitely left me to have some concerns [about the hospital system],” said McIntyre.

“Is there a doctor or a bed shortage that needs to be addressed?”

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