9/19/10

On diverting patients from hospitals. Is that deja vu I'm feeling?

With the elimination of hospital emergency rooms (ERs) and the reduction in hospital beds, ambulance "offload delays" (where overflowing hospitals and ERs make it impossible for paramedics to transfer their patients to hospital staff) are once again growing.

This is reminiscent of the ER problems about a decade ago after the cuts to hospital services occasioned by the Harris government.  At that time,  ambulances were turned away from backlogged hospitals, infamously resulting in the death of a young asthma sufferer, Joshua Fluelling.

Fluelling, 18, was having a severe asthma attack in January 2000 when his ambulance was redirected from the closest hospital, Scarborough Grace Hospital, and sent to Markham-Stouffville Hospital, more than twice the distance away. Scarborough Grace was on critical care bypass and not accepting new patients the night of Fluelling's attack. On route to Markham, the teenager suffered respiratory failure and brain damage. He died later in hospital.

In a lawsuit, his family alleged that by instituting cuts to hospital beds and emergency wards, the provincial government had failed to provide adequate care.  A coroner's jury called for more paramedics to be hired and for hospital bed closures be stopped.

Notably, the government changed the protocol that allowed hospitals to turn ambulances with critically ill patients away.

This time around, the new plan is to divert ambulances from hospital ERs.  In Niagara,where offload delays are, reportedly,  four hours,  they are expanding the number of patients that are diverted to Urgent Care Centres.   They are, in fact, developing a protocol called  "Project Omega" to divert patients from ERs. 

The last time I heard that name, it was from a novel about a murky, and evil, big business plot.


dallan@cupe.ca

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