Canada’s medical system is in critical condition. Wait times have reached record highs, while staffing drops to new lows.

Rylan Haas, a nurse in Saskatoon who fell ill while on vacation, says he was faced with a painful wait at an emergency room in Ottawa.

It’s not the stay Haas expected when he travelled to a music festival in Ottawa over the Canada Day long weekend.

“Wednesday morning I woke up with a bunch of stomach pain and that pain migrated down into my lower right quadrant.” Haas told CTV News. “Being a nurse I suspected my appendix had ruptured so I came into the Ottawa general hospital. I got into emergency after seven hours and after 11 hours after being in emergency I saw a doctor then my first CT scan after 13 hours.”

Haas says it was another nearly half-day wait for a surgery, adding that the time it took to receive the needed care added anxiety to an already stressful experience.

I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard,” says Haas.

The Ottawa Hospital says it cannot provide comment on specific patient cases, but in a statement, highlights the staffing difficulties faced by hospitals across the country.

“The Ottawa Hospital, much like other hospitals across Ontario and Canada, is experiencing pressure on emergency department staffing levels due to COVID-related absences, vacations, staff fatigue and burnout,” the statement said.

“The pandemic has taken an incredible toll on health-care providers over the last two+ years. Staffing is often an issue in the summer months as health-care providers take well-earned and much needed time off – this is more challenging today as EDs face the cumulative effect of consecutive years of a pandemic along with planned vacations. Additionally, periodic COVID outbreaks continue to have an impact on available ED staff resources. We will continue adapting as needed to address these staffing challenges, and ensure that patients receive the care they need.”

A nursing shortage has forced some emergency room departments to close. The Perth Hospital ER has been closed for more than three weeks, which has pushed area residents to travel at least 20 minutes to Smiths Falls in order to receive care. It is expected to reopen on July 24.

“The pandemic really added fuel to the fire,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses. “We were living in a nursing shortage pre-pandemic. We were advising government we need to work on training and recruiting and then the pandemic hit.

“So many nurses left the system or went casual because they couldn’t handle the workload. They were mandated to stay at work. They were abused and insulted every day and it wasn’t worth it.” 

At a premiers meeting on July 11, Silas issued a call to action, including helping internationally educated nurses enter the Canadian medical system and maintaining retention of current staff.

“We were very happy when they urgently asked Prime Minister Trudeau to call a first ministers meeting, not another study an action plan,” says Silas. “We have to stop the bleeding. We can’t let another nurse, another doctor, another personal care worker leave the system.”