Northern Ontario has some of the worst stats for hospital overcrowding and opioid-related emergency visits, according to a new report from Health Quality Ontario.
Nearly a quarter of northeast beds in 2016-17 were occupied by patients who should have been placed in a more suitable environment, such as a long-term care or rehab bed, the annual study shows.
On average in Ontario, 14.8 per cent of beds in 2016-17 held people waiting to receive care elsewhere; in our region, that number was 22.5 per cent. And in the northwest it was double the provincial average, at 29.8 per cent.
Emerg visits due to opioid overdoses, meanwhile, occurred at a rate of 65 per 100,000 population last year in the northeast, the HQO report indicates.
Other areas experienced more ER pressure from drug-related crises — in Hamilton-Niagara, for instance, the number per 100,000 people was 91.9, while North Simcoe-Muskoka had a rate of 83.6 — but the figure for this region was still 10 per cent higher than the Ontario average.
“One of the things we’re seeing is hospital overcrowding and how it’s both a symptom and a source of cascading pressures throughout the system,” said Anna Greenberg, interim president and CEO of Health Quality Ontario, in a release.
The organization found emergency visits in Ontario increased by 11.3 per cent over the last six years, jumping from 5.3 million in 2011-12 to 5.9 million by 2017-18. And the average time spent in ER by patients admitted to hospital went up from 15.3 hours in 2016-17 to 16 hours in 2017-18.
Contributing to the strain is a striking increase in drug-related emergencies, with treatment for opioid poisoning more than tripling from 2003 to 2017, the report found.
Not all the news is bad.
More patients are receiving cancer surgery within target times for their assigned priority level, the organization said, as are those slated for general surgery. And the rate of hospital-acquired C. difficile infections has decreased steadily in Ontario in recent years.
The northeast was ahead of the provincial average in terms of cancer surgery waits — with 94.1 per cent of priority 2-4 surgeries completed within target times last year — and on par with the rest of the province when it comes to general surgeries.
The region is also close to the provincial average in reducing C. Diff infections, and in wait times for patients seeking hip and knee replacements.
Overall, though, people in Ontario are waiting longer to get care.
In 2017, fewer patients reported being able to see a specialist less than 30 days after being referred to one, the HQO report states, and fewer had operations within target times for common procedures like knee and hip replacements.
When it comes to wait times for people to get into a long-term care facility, the northeast is holding its own, at least relative to other parts of the province.
In 2016-17, hospital patients in this region were looking at a delay of about three months — 94 days — to be transitioned to a nursing home, which is close to the provincial average and much better than North Simcoe-Muskoka, where people waited nearly a month longer.
Those leaving their homes for a long-term care facility, meanwhile, faced an average wait of 124 days in 2016-17, which is better than the province-wide stat of 149 days.
Still, the general trend for accommodating the aged is worrying. Health Quality Ontario noted that “the median amount of time people waited from hospital to move into a long-term care home was 31.4 per cent longer in 2016-17 than in 2015-16.”
Waits for those hoping to move into a long-term care home from the community were also up 12.9 per cent provincially.
Longevity is improving for Ontarians, but not uniformly, the health organization noted.
“People are losing fewer potential years of life to premature mortality – defined as death before the age of 75,” the report states. “The rate of potential years of life lost collectively per 100,000 population younger than 75 improved steadily in Ontario between 2005 and 2015, decreasing to 4,188 years per 100,000, from 4,897.”
Northerners, however, aren’t gaining extra years of life at the same rate.
“Rates of potential years of life lost varied by more than two-fold between Ontario’s regions,” the report points out.
In the northwest and northeast, the potential years of life lost to premature death were more than double those in Mississauga Halton region.