‘All of our rooms are empty’: Hospital ERs vacant during pandemic

TORONTO — The Emergency Department is usually one of the busiest areas of any hospital, but now many ERs are full of empty beds, as patients with ailments and injuries unrelated to coronavirus are avoiding hospitals due to pandemic fears.

“It’s so strange to walk through an emergency room with so many empty beds,” Dr. Gaurav Puri of Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket told CTV News.

“Here there are no wheelchairs and all of our rooms are empty.”

There has been a 30- to 40-per-cent drop in patients in many ERs in Canada.

“Patients who may need to be coming in to get care … are choosing not (to) because of their fear of getting COVID in hospital,” Puri said.

The lights have literally been turned off in some hospital corridors that used to be bustling with activity.

“They’re not even staffing it with nurses because there’s no patients,” Puri said. “It’s eerie. It’s definitely eerie.”

Those that do come in to the ER despite their fear of COVID-19 are often coming in almost too late, Puri said.

“We’re seeing patients who have abdominal pain for a week and they come in and they’ve got a ruptured appendicitis,” Puri explained.

A woman who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease, waited for two weeks to come in. When she arrived, she was in such dire straits that she almost needed to be put on a ventilator.

Because of this unusual situation, Southlake itself has put out a unique video, appealing to the public.

“The Emergency Department at Southlake remains a safe place,” the video says. “If you need our services, please come.”

It’s not just a problem at Southlake.

A new report estimates that there are now more than 11 thousand unoccupied beds in hospitals across Canada, both because of fewer ER visits and the fact that a staggering number of surgeries — almost 53 thousand — have been cancelled.

“We are still not doing elective cases — the main surgeries we are doing is emergency cases,” said Puri. “I don’t know what they’re going to do, because it’s pushed everything back and there are certain things that are time sensitive.”

Healthcare professionals are concerned that they are going to have a huge backlog when elective surgeries begin to be processed again.

“Eventually they are going to get it … but I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

Ontario’s health minister estimates that 35 people have died waiting for cardiac surgery. It’s a number that is sure to increase, as thousands of surgeries are delayed with every week that the novel coronavirus crisis continues to monopolize our health care system. 

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