Last month, Jamie-Lee Ball spent 5 days in the hallways of Brampton Civic Hospital. To those of us who have visited the emergency at Brampton Civic, this story is unsurprising, but what makes this case especially disturbing is that Jamie-Lee had severe internal bleeding. She endured unbearable stomach pain while in the hallways of Brampton Civic as she waited for a room to become available.
This story not only elicits indignation, but it also serves as a reminder of a fundamental flaw in our healthcare system, particularly in Brampton.
Those of us who have used Brampton hospitals, or have had family and friends use them, may be familiar with the same criticism: the hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed, or some variation on that theme.
According to Brampton Civic Hospital, the facility can serve a maximum of 250 patients per day; during the month Jamie-Lee visited the hospital, it averaged 357 patients per day. Hospital overcrowding is a common facet of healthcare in Brampton and the GTA. It isn’t uncommon to hear of people waiting upwards of 7 hours to get a broken arm or lacerations looked after.
The issue of overcrowding is an Ontario-wide problem; many major hospitals are operating above 100 percent capacity. Hospital wait times in major cities in Ontario are above provincial averages and many residents of the GTA opt for traveling to hospitals in smaller cities and towns for their shorter wait times.
The case of Jamie-Lee Ball unveils a deeper issue with Brampton’s healthcare services. The city has about 600,000 residents and has one major hospital and an urgent car centre – including the recently revamped Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health. It isn’t a full hospital, and that has been a sore spot for many residents.
Hamilton, for example, which has a population slightly smaller than Brampton, has at least 5 fully-fledged hospitals and several other institutions that serve patients. Could the problem be that Brampton is underfunded?
We can’t say for certain. While Hamilton has several hospitals and a lower population, the city’s hospitals serve more patients from outside of the city; these are the main hospitals of the entire metropolitan area. Consequently, wait times at Hamilton General are comparable with Brampton Civic.
The benefit of Hamilton’s system, however, is that it empowers patients with options. The patient experience can be a lot better in Hamilton than in Brampton: Brampton Civic’s ratings online is a mere 2 stars. Hamilton was intended to be a major port city like Toronto, but never grew the way Toronto did. The opposite is true in Brampton, which suffers because suburbs of Toronto expanded so rapidly that infrastructure couldn’t keep up.
There is also the issue of healthcare funding. In 2016, the Ontario government pledged $26 million to Hamilton’s healthcare infrastructure aimed at ameliorating patient experience. In December of 2016, William Osler Health System released a statement that it received $6 million from the Ontario government for 608 new beds. On the one hand, this came as good news to Brampton, but much to the consternation of many residents, it was a promise that took far too long to deliver. Hamilton received money to improve several of its hospitals, but the demand for improvement is greater in Brampton. Is money the solution?
Again, the answer is ambiguous. Money won’t solve the fundamental issue of overcrowding and long wait times, but innovation will (more on this in a moment). What money solves is the abysmal status quo of poor patient care in Brampton – a status quo that now involves waiting 5 days in the hallway while one’s insides bleed. The diagnosis is unequivocal: Brampton is massively underfunded.
But as I suggested earlier, funding is only a partial solution. Canadian hospitals, and in particular Ontario hospitals, suffer from chronic overcrowding. Even paragons like Hamilton cannot avoid the issue. Jeffrey Simpson, award-winning journalist and author, is a notable critic of massive funding. He points to several studies, including ones conducted by the OECD, that describe Canada’s healthcare system as one of the most expensive, but under-performing.
Throughout recent years, the federal government has increased transfer payments and the provinces have allocated more of their budget to healthcare. Unfortunately, these efforts yielded very little improvement to wait times, and in many cases the problem worsened. While the costs of healthcare are going up as more money is injected into the system, productivity remains unaddressed and the conventional ways of delivering healthcare are only reinforced.
What the Canadian healthcare system is missing is innovation; changing the way healthcare is delivered is more sustainable than expanding the current system. We cannot escape the constraints placed on the system by both an increasing and aging population; the demand for hospital beds will quickly outpace the return on funding. Healthcare is an industry that needs disruption. Simpson cites the U.K., Portugal, and New Zealand as examples of successful disruption.
Cases like that of Jamie-Lee Ball serve as a humbling reminder of the failures of Canadian healthcare. Her case illustrates how egregious the problems are for Brampton’s healthcare services.
Those who make the economic argument that the system requires less funding en masse to spark innovation should concede that Brampton’s healthcare requires a corrective approach.
Perhaps a moral argument will best illuminate the situation: in a city that is home to 600,000 people, a single major hospital will not suffice. This is yet another example of the ‘small town’ standard to which Brampton continues to be resigned. After critical failures like these are rectified, we can begin focusing on the sustainable systemic improvements that we need if our health care system is to survive.