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Canadian health-care system struggling amid 'multi-demic' of flu, COVID-19 and RSV

Across Canada, emergency departments and hospitals are packed, with health-care workers often treating patients in hallways and seeing unprecedented surges of illnesses.

Experts are calling this season a "multi-demic" as cases of flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) combine, stretching hospital staff thin.

"In 22 years in my job, this is probably the most challenging time that we've had," Dr. Rod Lim, physician at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont., told CTV's Your Morning Thursday. "We're definitely seeing so much activity, our emergency department is probably seeing about 80 per cent more patients than we have traditionally ever seen at this time of year."

Lim says at the hospital staff are "running around" trying to find care spaces and often treating people in hallways. In a press release from London Health Sciences dated Nov. 9, the emergency department wait time exceeded 20 hours for non-urgent care.

Experts believe the main reason for the rise in hospital visits is due to viral infections circulating through communities.

"This is the first year since the pandemic began that we're heading into a normal flu season," Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association, told CTV's Your Morning Thursday. "Coupled with the COVID-19 virus still circulating and RSV, which is another common childhood virus that comes around this time of year, we're seeing that increased strain and the emergency departments and healthcare teams still dealing with burnout."

In such chaos, staff are struggling to deliver the best care for all patients across the country. Lim says health-care workers are trying their best.

"At the end of the day that's our passionate, that's what we're going to do, if that ends up being in the middle of a hall, then it's going to be in the middle of a hall," he said.

A report from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario found nurses across the province struggled with mental health over the pandemic. According to the study, 75.3 per cent of Ontario nurses were burnt out, both exhausted and disengaged throughout the last few years, which the report states has to do with the increased stressful workload, understaffing and less time to relax.

"A significant majority of respondents (57.9 per cent) reported that their organizations resorted to limiting staff vacation time to manage workplace demand," the study reads.

It also notes an increase in job vacancies in nursing, showcasing that many left the profession altogether.

"We're really into a multi-year challenge in terms of trying to reinvigorate and replenish a lot of the incredible nurses," Lim said. "We need to have very serious conversations about the way we recruit, respect (and) treat healthcare workers who have given their hearts and souls over the pandemic, and really haven't had that return to normalcy that a lot of other people have enjoyed over the past few months."

Experts are urging people to protect themselves from ending up in hospitals by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza, and keeping up good hand hygiene and masking when necessary.

"When we prevent ourselves from getting so sick, even if we get the virus, from landing in hospital or an emergency department, or transmitting the virus to someone else, we will alleviate the strain inside the hospital," Zacharias said.

RSV spreading combined with a lack of children's Tylenol across pharmacy shelves has many parents of young kids concerned. This increase has many flocking to emergency departments, where Zacharias urges people to be patient.

"Our resources are strapped right now, so they're doing their best," she said. "We know that parents are worried and so being mindful of that is going to do us all some good."


A previous version of this article stated 75.3 per cent of Canadian nurses said they felt burnt out. According to the report by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, this statistic only applies to nurses in Ontario. Top Stories

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