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We comment here on a very real and distressing story of perhaps the most serious challenge facing our healthcare system and society as a whole.

Several weeks ago, a letter to the Editor appeared in the Montreal Gazette newspaper under the heading Outrageous ER wait times must be addressed.   The letter presents the experience of a 73 year old lady who was taken to one of our major hospitals by ambulance in considerable pain.  This dear lady waited 23 hours before seeing a doctor, and a total of 45 hours before being discharged, having received a blood test and a CT scan but no definitive diagnosis.

In the letter, the lady’s daughter speaks of the wonderful staff in this Emergency Department who do their best with what they have, which is ‘… an appalling lack of resources’.  She speaks of a lack of beds, a lack of staff, a lack of follow up and communication between health care professionals.

We have not reproduced the letter here as this would be unfair to the doctors, nurses and staff in this hospital’s Emergency Department.  This serious lack of resources exists in most all hospitals in Quebec and similar stories are told in almost every province of Canada.

The reality is that our aging population, with much greater medical needs than the average is growing significantly faster than the dollars which governments have made available to care for them.  Provincial governments, who manage our healthcare system, are well aware of our overwhelmed emergency departments and have regularly taken steps to make more resources available both within and outside of the hospital setting.  But, simply stated, the system cannot keep up with the growth in demand.   And we can say that with virtual certainty that this demand will continue to grow more quickly than the funding for the next 20 years.

What is the answer for us as caregivers of our seniors?  For a start, we must do everything possible to avoid using Emergency Departments. Do you know that the single most common accident experienced by seniors are falls.  Too many of these result in fractures, bleeding, serious complications, and therefore end up in Emergency Departments?  And many falls can be prevented with the proper care of our seniors.   Furthermore, when fragile seniors experience a visit to a hospital Emergency Department like the one described here, many face set-backs, both physical and mental, from which they never really recover.

Proper care can go a long way to avoid a visit to an Emergency Department.  And good medical care with regular visits to a family physician will also help.

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