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Overcrowding hits all-time high at RVH

Patient load at record numbers, says ER physician and flu is not to blame
2018-02-16 ER Dr. Wolnik RVH
Dr. Monica Wolnik, emergency physician at RVH, is pictured in a temporary overflow unit. Sue Sgambati/BarrieToday

If you go to emergency at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre for something that is not urgent, prepare for an 8 or 9 hour wait, says an emergency room physician.

The hospital is at 130 percent capacity and hasn't been below 100 in well over a year. But this is the highest. 

"The patient load at the hospital is at record numbers. Numbers that we haven't seen in a really long time," said Dr. Monica Wolnik, a 22-year physician at RVH.

The hospital received provincial funding to open a 36 bed transitional care unit in December to deal with overcapacity and recently opened 4 more beds on the unit to bring the total to 40.

Officials say it hasn't helped ease the crisis. There are currently 60 patients being cared for in what the hospital calls 'unconventional, unbudgeted spaces,' such as hallways, waiting areas and common rooms.

Flu is not the issue, according to RVH, but an aging population. 

"We have admitted patients here in this hospital that really don't need hospital care. They need care outside of the hospital which might be a retirement home, a nursing home, long-term care facility," explains Wolnik. 

"It's not unique to RVH. This is a province-wide issue. The tsunami is coming. This is the wave before the tsunami of an aging population that's going to have higher health care needs. Unfortunately the problem is going to get worse before it gets better."

Officials want to assure patients that if they are really sick, they won't have a long wait in emergency.

Wolnik expects a busy long weekend with likely more emergency room visitors but wants people to know they have other options.

The Family Health Team has a number of walk-in clinics along with the Huronia Urgent Care Clinic.

The Urgent Care Clinic is staffed by some ER physicians and has the ability to do x-rays.  And you can skip the waiting room with an online system that notifies you when to come in to avoid line-ups. 

She urges members of the public to change their expectations. 

"I personally haven't seen it this bad. This is not a solution that's gong to happen overnight. Opening more beds is not the solution. It's not enough," she said, adding, "If you are really sick and need to be here, you won't have a long wait."

Staff are also feeling the stress.

"It's a tough environment to work in as well when you're coming in to 8 or 9 hour waits. You just feel like you're a gerbil on a treadmill," she said. "Everybody is frustrated."

Sue Sgambati

About the Author: Sue Sgambati

Sue has had a 30-year career in journalism working for print, radio and TV. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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