We’ve Waited Too Long for Healthcare Solutions

The overcrowded emergency rooms are just the tip of the iceberg in our strained healthcare system. So how do we solve the growing problem?


Canadians across the country are facing a critical situation — overflowing emergency rooms (ERs) with long wait times, overwhelmed staff, and concerns about patient safety. This isn’t simply a news headline; it’s a real crisis impacting people from coast to coast, with significant consequences for both patients and healthcare workers.

Understanding the root causes of this crisis requires examining the bigger picture. It’s not a single factor, but rather a perfect storm of contributing elements.

The surge in respiratory illnesses

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the seasonal rise in other respiratory viruses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), has significantly increased the number of patients seeking care in ERs. Dr. Michael Howlett, president of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, paints a clear picture in an interview with CBC.

“This is a reflection of problems with the capacity in hospitals,” he says, “and also capacity in long-term care, because it just snowballs backwards — and we see the result in the emergency departments.”

Hospitals across the country are grappling with critical staffing shortages for various reasons, including illness, burnout, and workers leaving the healthcare field altogether. Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the Canadian Medical Association, emphasizes the urgency in a statement: “We are facing a primary care crisis in this country, and we urgently need to find solutions.”

This shortage further strains ER capacity and patient care.

The backlog of surgeries that accumulated during the pandemic, when hospitals focused on COVID-19 patients, now adds to the pressure on ERs. These patients often require post-operative care, further straining resources.

Many patients who no longer require emergency-level care remain in hospital beds due to the lack of available spots in long-term care facilities. This situation, known as access block, prevents new patients from being admitted and contributes to the overcrowding.

This crisis has severe consequences for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Excessively long waits

Patients are facing agonizingly long waits for treatment, with some reports exceeding 20 hours in individual cases. These delays can put patients at risk, especially those with time-sensitive conditions.

Healthcare workers are overworked and burning out due to the constant pressure and lack of resources. Howlett adds to the gravity of the situation, saying that, “It’s basically a problem of a lack of good planning efforts for the last 20 or 30 years in all jurisdictions.”

The overcrowding and chaos in ERs can lead to medical errors, and in the worst cases, preventable deaths. Solving this crisis won’t be easy, but it’s a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Some potential solutions and strategies are being considered.

Investment in healthcare

Governments at all levels need to increase funding for hospitals to address staffing shortages and ensure adequate resources. This investment is crucial to ensure the healthcare system can adequately care for Canadians.

Investing in long-term care facilities and home care services will free up beds in hospitals, allowing them to focus on emergency and acute cases. This will address the bottleneck at the heart of the access block issue.

Making it easier for Canadians to access family doctors and nurse practitioners could prevent some non-emergency cases from ending up in ERs. This would help alleviate the burden on ERs and ensure patients receive timely care in appropriate settings.

Experts agree that tackling this crisis requires significant changes and collaboration across the entire healthcare system. This involves not only addressing immediate challenges but also implementing long-term strategies for sustainable improvements.

The bottom line

The overcrowding in Canadian ERs reflects a strain on the entire healthcare system. With an aging population and the ongoing threat of infectious diseases, the situation is likely to worsen without significant action. It’s a complex problem, but we must prioritize investments in healthcare, innovative solutions, and a collaborative approach to ensure that every Canadian receives timely and appropriate care when they need it most.

This crisis demands collaboration and action — from both governments and healthcare providers — to ensure a healthy and resilient healthcare system for all Canadians.

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Adam is a passionate advocate for women's and infants' health. With a Master of Science and a current Ph.D. from the University of Toronto's Department of Physiology, he has dedicated his academic and professional career to understanding and improving health outcomes for women and newborns. Adam's research is driven by a deep commitment to empowering women through education and by promoting the incredible advances in women's health care. As a proud Canadian, he is eager to shine a light on the contributions and progress made in his home country, aiming to inspire and contribute to a healthier future for all women and their families.