st. mike's exterior A short cruise down the Gardiner Expressway is enough to get a sense of the scope of the densification Toronto’s downtown core is experiencing.

It’s no secret that demand is strong for new housing in the core of North America’s condo capital. The building boom has received a considerable amount of press both nationally and internationally for the sheer number of new residential buildings that are currently under construction. But what has received less attention is how the city’s infrastructure is coping with the influx of new downtown residents.

The Toronto Star recently ran a story titled “Toronto ERs feel weight of downtown condo boom“. We thought this was an extraordinarily interesting angle to pursue and found the Star article thoroughly enlightening. To further understand the impact of the densification of downtown Toronto, we tracked down one of the doctors that the Star spoke with, Dr. Doug Sinclair.

Dr. Sinclair is the executive vice president and chief medical officer at St. Mike’s Hospital. Check out our interview with him below…

BuzzBuzzHome: A recent Toronto Star article noted that Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals have exceeded their ER capacities with a combined total of 100,000 visits each year. Is St. Mike’s experiencing the same increase?

Doug Sinclair: We’ve gone up about 5 to 8 per cent per year for the last 3 to 4 years. We’re now at just over 70,000 visits per year and 4 or 5 years ago we were at 60,000.

BBH: Would you say you noticed an acceleration about 4 or 5 years ago in the number of ER visits?

DS: Yes, before that the numbers were fairly flat. There has been a significant rise, but it’s hard to know what the factors are. The patients coming from the St. Mike’s ER tend to be from the Toronto area, but we don’t have detailed analysis of the patients that tell us where they come from. The increased density would be a factor, but we’re also concerned that it’s the aging population.

BBH: In what ways has the hospital been coping with the increase in ER visits?

DS: What we’re doing is trying to be more efficient in the way we practice. In healthcare there’s a lot of inefficiencies There is a program in Ontario, a pay-for-performance program, that has incentives to improve efficiency and design. Our wait times have not improved over the last few years, but they haven’t become any worse, so I think efficiency has improved in the way we take care of patients. We’ve introduced a number of ways to smooth your visit to the emergency room and improve capacity.

BBH: Do you think hospitals will need to adapt to this change in density over the next few years, not just in the ER, but in all the care that’s provided?

DS: Absolutely. Within a few years we have a lot of pressure to change the way we deliver our services. Only by changing our processes very significantly will we be able to cope with the budget challenges we have now. That’s the big push right now.

BBH: Are you noticing any pronounced change in the way the hospital is staffed? Condos often denote a younger population, so could this affect the demographics working within St. Mike’s?

DS: That’s a good question. I don’t think we know an answer to that. Our staff turnover is quite low at St. Mike’s and people commute a long way to come to work here. I think over time it will have an effect but we can’t tell at the moment.

BBH: Do you think the increase in density in the downtown core will have an effect on the health of its inhabitants with more people walking, biking, taking transit and generally staying out of cars?

DS: I think that’s absolutely true. You might have seen the video from Dr. Mike Evans from St. Mike’s about how walking for a half hour per day will improve your overall health. I spent 25 years in the Maritimes and when I came to Toronto I thought the traffic and gridlock was unbelievable. People walking is absolutely part of the improvement in health that we need to find.

Thanks for chatting with us Doug!

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