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Toronto Condos a Drain on Toronto Hospitals

3 August 2012

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney have expressed a concern about the growing amount of Toronto condo home purchasing that’s been happening over the last couple of years. And perhaps an even bigger concern – the amount of development that’s still going on. All of this, and at a time when the Toronto housing market is said to be facing a cool-down, and it’s easy to see why this marketplace in particular has caused so much concern.

But put aside all the economic concerns, the concerns of the federal government, and even the concerns of Toronto homebuyers and homeowners and there’s another issue arising from Toronto’s condo boom. That’s the pressure it’s putting on Toronto hospitals.

“You just have to look outside your window,” says Anil Chopra, head of emergency medicine at the University Health Network. Dr. Chopra knows what he’s talking about. Overseeing the emergency departments at four major Toronto hospitals – Princess Margaret, Toronto Western, Toronto General, and Toronto Rehab – has watched the city grow over the past few years. He’s also watched the strain this has put on his hospitals, and how it’s affecting not only patients and doctors, but Toronto homeowners, too.

The simple fact is that with so many people living in Toronto, and more moving in by the day, Toronto hospitals simply can’t keep up. The facilities are not equipped to handle the overflow of people and so, patients aren’t receiving the proper care that they should. Triage patients are being treated in the waiting rooms, where the other dozens of patients waiting can hear every detail about their private health concerns. Other patients who are being treated by IV drips are sitting in hallways simply waiting for their treatment to be finished. Patients scuttling around in hospital gowns, and nurses just trying to keep track of where they are. It all makes for a very disorganized hospital scene, and perhaps not the most welcoming one that patients have in mind when they come for help.

And much of it, says Dr. Chopra, comes from the Toronto condo boom. If you look at the numbers, that could have a great deal of truth to it. Chopra says,

“We’re seeing a 5 to 10 per cent increase in emergency room patients year after year after year. It seems to be endless.”

And while Dr. Chopra, as well health care staff working in overcrowded hospitals, may be thinking mostly about where they’re going to put people, the problem goes a little deeper than that. In Toronto as a whole there’s no place to put people and so, services cannot be allocated for issues such as the amount of people crowding through hospital doors.

Typically, says Sandeep Agrawal, professor of planning at Ryerson University, when a new subdivision is being planned, the space is there to plan other services and infrastructure to support the people moving into that subdivision. But when the space you’re talking about developing is in the middle of downtown Toronto, that’s just not possible.

“Downtown it’s a bit the other way around, where the population has increased multiple folds and hospitals have to keep up with that,” says Agrawal. “Obviously they were not designed initially to cater to that density.”

But, he continues on to say that the growth of Toronto condos has led to another problem, this one causing even more people to cram through those hospital doors. That’s the fact that with so many condos being built, more people are living in close quarters today perhaps more than ever before. And that causes a rapid spread of germs and disease, only contributing to the problem of already-overcrowded hospitals. And the fact that there’s little communication between the developers and the health care professionals of the city doesn’t help either.

Agrawal also recently wrote in a letter to urban planners,

“City planning as a profession has moved far from health planning agencies with relatively little or no contact with health and health planning agencies.”

To put the problem into perspective, between the years of 2006 and 2001 population in the city of Toronto expanded by nearly 112,000 residents – an increase of almost 5 per cent in just as many years. And while that may not sound high to some, consider that it’s five times as much growth during the 5 years between 2000 and 2005, and one can see just how great of a difference it is. In Canada alone, as shown by the chart, it’s the second-highest growing city in Canada, coming in at a close second only to Montreal.

And to put it in further perspective, Toronto currently has 132 high rises under construction. That’s more than any other city in the world. And that’s a whole of people with very few facilities.

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