“Huge spikes” in population are adding to the “sustained pressure” felt by the province’s emergency rooms, the Ontario Hospital Association is warning.

In a statement Wednesday, the group said Ontario’s rapidly rising population is linked to growing wait times and high levels of hospital occupancy amid the circulation of rampant respiratory illnesses.

As of January 13, there were 1,274 COVID-19 patients, 445 flu patients and 158 RSV patients receiving care at Ontario hospitals, according to the OHA.

“Ontario has approximately 22,000 acute care beds staffed and in operation at any given moment. In total, more than 6,000 of these beds are occupied by patients who should be in another more appropriate setting, or who, in some instances, may have been able to avoid admission had they been vaccinated against the seasonal respiratory viruses that continue to pose a threat to the health of many Ontarians, especially our most vulnerable,” Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the OHA, said in a statement Wednesday.

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This figure is up from December, when 4,200 acute care beds were being occupied by patients who should be in a more appropriate setting, with almost 40 per cent waiting for a long-term care bed.

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“Growing wait times and high levels of hospital occupancy are also directly related to Ontario’s very rapidly changing population. A huge spike in population growth in recent years, and a growing population of elderly people with complex health needs is increasing demand for health services, alongside an increase in the acuity levels of patients presenting in emergency departments,” the OHA said.

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The OHA urged Ontarians to stay up to date on respiratory illness vaccinations, such as influenza, COVID-19, and RSV.

The fall COVID vaccine campaign, which kicked off in October 2023, has only seen about 14.6 per cent of eligible Canadians receive the updated XBB.1.5 vaccine.

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Data for this year’s flu vaccine uptake is not yet available.

“The respiratory virus season is upon us, and the emergency departments of Ontario’s hospitals are under sustained pressure as they work tirelessly to provide timely access to care for patients,” Dale added.

Emergency departments across the country are overwhelmed with patients waiting many hours to receive care due to a mix of factors including staffing shortages, overcrowding and a surge of viruses at this time of year.

ER doctors say this season is the worst they’ve ever seen, and are now calling for real action to fix the crisis plaguing Canada’s health-care system.

The CMA released a statement last week saying unless major systemic changes are made, the problem in emergency departments will keep unfolding.

— with files from Global News’ Naomi Barghiel and Katie Dangerfield 

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