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Why Canada's ERs are struggling to stay open

On a Thursday in mid-August, the doors of a hospital's emergency department two hours west of Toronto were shut.

A note posted on the front said the ER was closed for the day. It would reopen the following morning at 08:00, but close again for the evening. Patients who needed urgent care were asked to go to nearby hospitals - a 15- to 35-minute drive away.

It was the ninth time since April that the Huron Public Healthcare Alliance - a network of four hospitals serving around 150,000 people in western Ontario - had to temporarily close or cut back hours at one of its emergency departments.

Canada is one of the richest countries in the world. Its universal publicly funded healthcare system has been touted by progressive politicians in the US, the country's southern neighbour, who see it as a needed alternative to an American system where millions remain uninsured. 

But in recent months, Canada's system has been described by workers and hospital executives as being in a state of "crisis". That includes struggling emergency rooms.

Toronto ER physician Dr Raghu Venugopal said he has seen stretchers lining the hallways, occupied by patients suffering from ailments like a broken hip or abdominal pains.

On some days, those patients may wait anywhere from two to four days to be admitted to hospital, all while a team of two nurses tends to a total of 50 to 60 patients on the unit.

Other patients are being examined in the waiting room because the lack of staff has forced parts of the ER to close, meaning there is limited space for doctors to see them privately.

"We are in a standard-less void where anything goes, and it is shocking," Dr Venugopal said.

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Source: BBC News, 2 September 2022



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