The Slow but Sure Degradation of Ontario’s Healthcare System by CoVid-19

You could see it coming from a long way: Omicron will overrun the Ontario healthcare system. While the system usually works for us in normal times. It’s internal partial collapse is imminent. The cascade of partial failure is very evident, and will continue until Omicron passes. We can only hope that another variant will not emerge. It is clear that we, as advanced as we think we are, are at the mercy of this little, persistent, virus. We could have done more, I think, but that may not have prevented the collapse.

Our Healthcare System Gracefully Degradation
Our healthcare system will not suddenly collapse, like a building that has lost its footings. The system is built such that it can gracefully degrade, and that’s a good thing. Delta in the past, and now Omicron, test our healthcare system. The first to go from a hospital perspective were elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacements. This has extended to include cancer and other life threatening surgeries. On the public side, people hesitate to go to hospitals for your less novel ailments such as heart attacks, diabetic issues, etc. This public hesitancy is no less important, because the outcome is the same: average people receive health care that is substantially less than pre-pandemic.

Hospital ERs, Ambulance Coverage Backed Up
As Omicron makes so many more people sicker they are forced to go to hospital emergency rooms. These ERs, pre-pandemic, were limited in capacity. Toronto Ambulance staff, pre-pandemic often had to wait 4-5 hours to offload patients to hospital staff, because hospital beds were not available, and hospital staff were unable to attend to these patients. Now during Omicron, this situation has become even worse, as ambulance staff contract Omicron and book off sick, there is even a smaller capacity margin. Toronto EMS has recently said that no ambulances have been available at certain times of the day. This is not only their issue, but also that ambulance staff are stuck with patients in hospital ERs. The underlying problem of hospital ER’s lack of capacity, pre-pandemic, was never sufficiently fixed. Omicron vividly brings this problem to the fore.

Fire Fighters back fill Ambulance Personnel
If you call for a medical emergency now, an ambulance may not arrive. Firefighters, with their large red trucks will attend to you, but their capabilities are limited. They have no capacity to transport very sick patients to hospitals. One firefighter, yesterday, had no choice but to call a taxi for a patient on their way to a hospital. A fire truck is not able to safely transport sick patients to hospital. While fire fighters are attending to medical calls, there leaves a potential hole in fire fighting.

Our elderly in long-term care, who bore the brunt of wave 1 and 2 deaths, is also at great risk. The elderly have weaker immune systems. If attendants inadvertently spread the virus, then they are highly susceptible. Once they contract CoVid-19 and are sent to hospitals, there is very little room, and often no opportunity for them to return to their long-term care home. CoVid-19 has again highlighted the lack of infection control and care in this part of the healthcare system.

Collapse of the Virus Detection System
Those who believe they have contracted CoVid-19 but do not have severe symptoms can no longer be tested using a PCR test. This is because our testing capacity is backed up. This means that we have lost one of the tools to accurately gauge the spread of the pandemic. There is also a near day’s worth of backlog of testing. Further, the contact tracing system has been completely overrun. Omicron has so widely spread in the community that contact tracing cannot keep up. Further, rapid antigen testing, better than nothing, is in dire short supply.

We have lost a couple of tools used to track CoVid-19.

There is no single source problem here, but many.

Here in Ontario, 15% of people have refused to get vaccinated against Omicron. While vaccination is not a guarantee against Omicron, the odds of severe illness and hospitalization are far less. These people who refuse to be vaccinated greatly contribute to Ontario’s hospitalization predicament and degradation. If they do not wish to be vaccinated, that is their decision, but note that it affects the rest of society. The Ontario government should be taking more proactive steps to protect the rest of society, but have not.

Leadership is required to make the best of this bad situation. Omicron, though a terrible virus, has highlighted out healthcare shortcomings, as well as the shortcomings of long-term care, and society in general. Government has not sufficiently stepped up to provide leadership on minimizing the effects of Omicron, so we need to be more proactive to protect ourselves.

It may be possible that everyone will contract Omicron or some other variant of CoVid-19, but that is unknown at this time. Our hospital system cannot survive the surge if everyone contracts the virus at the same time. Vaccine manufacturers are working diligently on an Omicron-specific vaccine, which they predict will be available in 2022 March. We must hold on until then.

There are many things we can do on our own: minimize contact with others, don’t go to any place with a lot of people, wear a mask wherever there are people, ensure wherever you go that there is good ventilation, and get your CoVid-19 vaccinations when you can. You have a significant say in protecting yourself. No matter how incompetent our government leaders, each individual can help themselves. We have no other choice. We need to shut down our society for a short while. We can do this on a personal level. This is in our power.

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