Parents fear ‘crisis’ in children’s care after several Ontario hospitals cancel surgeries

In the wake of news that three Ontario children’s hospitals have canceled surgeries, dozens of parents are sharing their stories about how the onslaught of viruses this fall has affected their families, and question whether enough is being done to address the “crisis” in care.

In recent weeks, the Children’s Hospital in London, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa announced the cancellation of surgeries to focus on providing critical care as staff deal with the surge of children with respiratory illnesses.

Morgan Bradnam, 37, of London, Ont., was among the parents who contacted CBC after hearing the London hospital’s announcement earlier this week. The mother of two school-aged sons said that since October, “it’s pretty much been a non-stop revolving door of illnesses.”

Bradnam said the shortage of children’s cold and flu medications has also been frustrating.

We are looked at as the poster child of health care in the world, yet right now it’s horrific.– Randi Bethke of London, Ont.

“Before I was able to get my hands on some, we had to go old school and we had to put them [her children] in an ice bath to try to break that fever,” said Bradnam, who finally landed some children’s medications after visiting eight different drugstores.

“I do believe in masking and I try sending them [to school] with masks, but it’s pretty difficult when they’re going against the grain. It seems a bit futile.”

Nash Syed, president of the Children’s Hospital at the London Health Sciences Centre, said this week that the move to cancel surgeries was “an extremely difficult decision and one that I wish we didn’t have to make.”

He added it was “necessary to ensure the hospital’s teams are able to meet critical care and emergency needs.”

Randi Bethke, 31, of London, Ont., with her sons Nolan and Myles, left to right, doesn’t believe governments are doing enough to keep children safe. (Submitted by Randi Bethke)

“My son had a fever of 106 F last week. Lasted a week. I was very scared as a mom,” said London resident Randi Bethke, a nail technician who has two children.

“What if he has to go to emerge? Will he be able to get the care he needs?”

Bethke, 31, doesn’t believe governments are doing enough to keep children safe right now.

“We are looked at as the poster child of health care in the world, yet right now it’s horrific,” she said. “I don’t feel as if they are treating this like the crisis it is.”

Canada in pediatric crisis

She’s not the only one.

A group of prominent mothers, grandmothers and caregivers that calls itself Moms, Grandmoms, and Caregivers for Kids released an open letter Wednesday morning from Calgary that’s addressed to the prime minister and premiers.

Members of the group include Kathleen Taylor, chair of the Hospital for Sick Children’s board of trustees, former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and former MP Lisa Raitt, now co-chair of the Coalition for a Better Future.

“This crisis isn’t new,” reads the letter. “Children’s hospitals and advocates have been raising the alarm that an urgent response is needed at the national and provincial levels to bring leadership and action for kids in Canada.

“It should never have gotten this far. Our kids deserve better.”

The group calls on governments to earmark funds for children’s health care and collect health data about that demographic. It also urges the government to “implement proven strategies” to curb viral spread, and suggests appointing an ombudsperson for children to “lead us through this crisis and get Canada back to being a world-leading country for kids to grow up in.”

Missing work to care for kids ‘stressful’

Lia De Pauw of Kingston, Ont., is a mother of two who works as a mental health promotion specialist at KFL&A Public Health.

She said the number of days of work she’s missed to care for her sick children are mounting.

“We were just off from Nov 2 to 11 with a respiratory bug.

“That was seven unpaid days so far this month,” she added. “I’ve missed around 50 days of work in 2022 to care for my kids, Much of that has been unpaid time.

“It’s been extremely stressful to lose so much income and wonder about impacts on job security as the sole income earner in my family.”

Lia De Pauw of Kingston, Ont., is a single mother of sons Thorben and Issak, left to right, who were hit with a respiratory virus at the start of the month. (Submitted by Lia De Pauw)

The letter addresses concerns that children are missing school because of a rash of illnesses, and parents staying home to care for their children are losing out on paid work.

CBC News contacted the two major school boards in London to inquire about the rate of student absenteeism.

A spokesperson for the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) said concrete data isn’t immediately available, but there have been no “flags or alerts” to indicate student absences are higher than usual for this time of year.

Cheryl Weedmark of the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) said in an email on Monday that the board hasn’t seen an increase in student and staff absences, although it would take time to get specific numbers.

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