Be prepared for ‘much longer than normal wait times’ in ER, SickKids warns parents


Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children is warning patients that its emergency department is currently experiencing beyond normal wait times and is warning them to come prepared.

In a tweet posted Tuesday evening, the research and pediatric hospital, also known as SickKids, says it is seeing extremely high patient volumes and “much longer than normal wait times” for non-emergency issues.

The hospital says the sickest patients will be seen first.

Jason Fischer, division head of emergency medicine at SickKids, said the hospital’s emergency department has become overcrowded due an early viral season, a lack of access to care in the community and staffing shortages at the hospital as a result of illness and a reduced workforce. He said children are back to school and they are getting sick with coughs, colds and fever. 

“What we hear from families is they are having trouble accessing care in the community,” he said. “They are having difficulty seeing their family doctor, or their pediatrician, or using their local urgent care, or their local emergency department.”

SickKids recommends that families considering a trip to its emergency room do the following:

  • Call their family doctor, find out their availability and what they recommend if a child is sick after hours.
  • Visit for resources. The website gives clear instructions about when parents and caregivers should seek care for their child.
  • Use the hospital’s 24/7 symptom checker tool on its Virtual Urgent Care platform to help determine if a child needs an ED visit or could be treated by a primary care provider. 
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu to decrease the burden of illness and keep children healthier.
  • If a visit to the emergency department is in order, patients should come prepared with water bottles, nut-free snacks, phone chargers and entertainment for their wait.

Typically in October, the hospital would plan for about 220 to 230 patients at its emergency department over a 24-hour period, but on Monday, the hospital’s ER saw more than 300 patients and that included some who had already taken advantage of its virtual urgent care.

Last week, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa tweeted a similar message that its emergency department was experiencing heavy volumes and asked patients to come prepared with snacks, blankets and toys to make the wait as comfortable as possible.

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said Ontario’s controversial Bill 124 is to blame for the health-care staffing crisis. Bill 124 is a law passed in 2019 that limits wage increases at one per cent per year for Ontario Public Service employees as well as broader public sector workers, including nurses and teachers.

“Bill 124 needs to go. What we need desperately in the province to retain the nurses we have … is competitive compensation,” she said. 

Mayssia Elajami said her son came back from day care last Wednesday looking very tired. Tylenol didn’t work. The next day, Elajami called her family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital to say her son had a fever and he was not eating. She was told to take him to SickKids. The family waited seven hours. 

From 12 noon to 4 p.m., they waited in one area, then were moved to another area that looked like a cafeteria.

Her son’s fever was high and discharge was coming out of his eyes. She said she and her husband were getting upset. Eventually, a doctor saw her son. But she said somebody needs to be accountable for the long wait times.

“I needed somebody to help my son. And that’s when I told my husband, go, please get help because I started to cry,” she said.

“There needs to be more support for SickKids from the government.”

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