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Canada’s ERs are under intense pressure — and winter is coming



Hospital emergency departments are jammed up in much of the country even before the traditional flu season begins, raising concerns about the winter months ahead.

In Montreal, for instance, ERs hovered at about 150 per cent capacity for much of the past week — and some surpassed 200 per cent.

Dr. Judy Morris, head of the Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians, said the sustained pressure on the system from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent staffing shortages has taken a toll.

“It’s kind of unseen to have that over such a long period,” said Morris, an emergency physician at Sacré-Coeur hospital in Montreal.

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“Certainly the lack of personnel — all types of personnel, but mostly nursing personnel — is hurting us across the health-care network.”

The situation is also troubling in other parts of Canada, including Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

“I’ve been in emergency medicine for almost 19 years now, and I have never seen the waits that our patients have to endure at all,” said Dr. Carolyn Snider, the head of emergency medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.

“I think what’s most concerning about it is that it doesn’t feel like there’s an end in sight for so many of us.”

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, noted that another COVID-19 wave is beginning in Europe.

“There’s concerns that we might see a worse flu season than we’ve seen from the last couple of years and as well as keeping an eye on COVID cases,” she said.

“It’s a matter of really being watchful and putting in place as many of our multi layers of our multi-layer public health approach as we possibly can.”

Wait times up, rural ERs scaled back

An Ontario Health report leaked by the Liberal opposition last week illustrates the extent of the problem in that province.

Patients in an emergency room waited more than 33 hours for an inpatient bed in August, a 54 per cent increase compared with the same month a year earlier. Ambulance offload times also rose, with patients waiting up to 83 minutes before entering the hospital.

At the local level, authorities are warning the public of a challenging fall and winter ahead and urging residents to get their influenza and COVID-19 booster shots.

In eastern Ontario, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, which is based in Belleville, issued a statement on Friday pointing to the continued prevalence of COVID-19, along with an expected resurgence of influenza and a health-care system already under strain.

“This year, residents are encouraged to get the influenza vaccine when it becomes available, and to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines, to reduce their risk of severe illness and to reduce the risk of spreading illness to others,” said Dr. Ethan Toumishey, medical officer of health at the unit.


A hospital’s juggling act caring for patients with not enough staff

Widespread staff shortages in health care have forced Kingston Health Sciences Centre to shuffle patients between departments, occasionally close a section of the emergency department and treat people in hallways. CBC News’ chief correspondent Adrienne Arsenault witnesses the toll it has taken on employees and patients at the Ontario hospital.

Emergency rooms in British Columbia are also under strain, said Aman Grewal, head of the B.C. Nurses’ Union.

She said many hospitals in rural areas have, at times, scaled back services or closed on the weekends due to a staffing shortage — putting more pressure on larger hospitals.

“Those patients that would have gone to that hospital are now having to travel an hour and a half to two hours to a more tertiary site,” Grewal said. The staffing shortage will only get worse, she said, if governments don’t put money into education programs for young nurses, as well as provide better salaries and working conditions to retain those on the job.

In Quebec, more than 4,000 health-care workers were off the job on Friday due to COVID-19, the highest number in nearly two months.

Morris, head of the province’s emergency physicians’ association, said the lack of staff, a resurgence in COVID-19 patients and backlogs elsewhere in the system are all contributing to overloaded ERs.

“When patients have nowhere to go, they come to the emergency room, and that’s why our numbers are high. But mostly we need personnel in order to open up more beds so that they can be in the right place to get the care they need,” she said.

“We’re feeling this way going into what is traditionally one of the busiest seasons with flu and another wave in front of us or upon us with COVID as well, and it’s pretty worrisome.”

The number of Quebec patients in hospital with COVID-19 climbed beyond 2,000 last week for the first time since August, prompting the province’s health minister, Christian Dubé, to once again encourage people to get their booster shots.

‘Patients have gotten more complex’

Snider of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto said the problem isn’t likely to be solved any time soon. Put simply, the number of patients coming into the hospital is greater than the number going out, she said.

“I think everybody can sort of grasp that, and there’s only so many beds in the end,” she said.

“As our patients have gotten more complex, as our patients are getting older, we need more and improved care for them when they leave.”

A nurse works at Jean-Talon hospital in Montreal on Friday. Last week, emergency rooms in the city were at an average 150 per cent capacity. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In an attempt to free up hospital beds, the Ontario government made the controversial decision to allow seniors to be sent up to 150 kilometres away for long-term care.

Snider said authorities will need to move quickly to free up space in the winter months and should think creatively in doing so.

“Do we need to take over hotels, do we need to take over apartment buildings and ensure that good care is being provided in different spaces than we’re used to, because we’re at such a crisis state in our health-care system,” she said.

“The other very important piece of this is: Who are the humans that are going to take care of our patients and our loved ones — and that continues to be a problem across Canada? I would say that most of our nurses, if not all, are really not paid for the hard work that they do.”

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Conservatives are ‘fearmongering’ over assault-style gun ban: public safety minister



OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino accuses the Conservatives of “whipping up fear” that the Liberal government is outlawing ordinary long guns and hunting rifles.

In an interview, Mendicino says the government only wants to reinforce a regulatory ban on assault-style firearms like the AR-15 by enshrining a definition in legislation, and it is prepared to work with MPs to get it right.

He insists the government has no intention whatsoever of going after everyday long guns and hunting rifles, calling the notion “Conservative fearmongering.”

In May 2020, the Liberal government announced a ban through order-in-council on over 1,500 models and variants of what it considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.

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The Liberals recently proposed including an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm in gun-control legislation being studied by a House of Commons committee.

The Conservatives claim the government’s amendment amounts to the most significant hunting rifle ban in the history of Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.


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Joly seeks reprimand of Russian ambassador as embassy tweets against LGBTQ community



OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has asked her department to summon Russia’s ambassador over social media postings against LGBTQ people.

In recent days, Russia’s embassy in Ottawa has posted on Twitter and Telegram that the West is imposing on Russia’s family values, and arguing that families can only involve a man, a woman and children.

The embassy has posted images of a crossed-out rainbow flag and Orthodox icons of Adam and Eve.

The tweets came as Russia expanded a ban on exposing children to so-called homosexual propaganda, meaning authorities can now prosecute Russians for doing things they argue might entice adults to be gay or transgender.

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Joly’s office says the posts amount to “hateful propaganda” that must be called out and “an attack on the Canadian values of acceptance and tolerance.”

If Global Affairs Canada follows Joly’s request, it will be the third time the department has summoned ambassador Oleg Stepanov this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.


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Work hard and never give up, Michelle O’Bonsawin says during Supreme Court welcome



OTTAWA — The newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada says her journey has not been an easy one, but it has been meaningful and rewarding.

Members of the legal community and Michelle O’Bonsawin’s fellow judges welcomed her to the bench in a ceremony today.

O’Bonsawin, who replaced the retiring Michael Moldaver on Sept. 1, is a bilingual Franco-Ontarian and an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation.

O’Bonsawin says she is a big believer that if a person has a goal, works hard and never gives up, they can achieve their dreams.

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She adds that while she has made mistakes and fallen down, those missteps have been her teacher.

Richard Wagner, the chief justice of Canada, praises O’Bonsawin’s generosity and volunteer activities, noting she shares his passion for open courts, access to justice and education.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.


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