Shift in party’s tone could lead to death, doctor says

Doctor says violent nature of Homecoming incidents not seen in previous years

Mike MacDonald
Mike MacDonald

The emergency room at Kingston General Hospital received an all-time high influx of patients this Homecoming weekend, a trend doctors say is growing every year.

On the Friday and Saturday nights of Homecoming weekend, the emergency room at KGH received a total of 56 cases for severe intoxication and other injuries, five more than last year.

Dr. Gord Jones, head of emergency medicine for Queen’s University and Kingston General and Hotel Dieu Hospitals, said the difference between previous years and this year’s Homecoming was in the increase in cases of assault and other injuries brought to the emergency room.

“There was at least one sexual assault, several people with facial injuries, dental injuries and secondary assaults, which really weren’t a part of Homecoming in the past. We saw lots of lacerations from people throwing a beer bottle up in the air and it falling on somebody’s head, senseless things like that,” he said. “Across the road from the hospital there were six cars that were keyed and had their tires slashed for no apparent reason. That’s something we haven’t seen in the past.”

Jones said the attitude of people attending Homecoming is changing.

“Whatever you call this event, it’s no longer Homecoming … people come [from] out of town not to party, but to rumble,” he said. “Because of that, we’re seeing the violence, the vandalism and the assaults and the lacerations and the potential for a lot worse to happen. The attitude of the crowd was no longer that of ‘let’s party and support Queen’s and have a good time at Homecoming,’ it’s ‘let’s go to Kingston to create havoc.’” Jones said the potential for dangerous behaviour during Homecoming weekend to escalate could have dire effects on the emergency room at KGH.

“I would hope that it doesn’t continue to escalate, because if it does, it’s going to be an even bigger challenge for us to staff for that and make sure we’re able to handle that,” he said. “The other potential is that we’re going to see somebody get killed … that’s either going to be from somebody getting too drunk or somebody getting assaulted and dying.”

Mike MacDonald, program manager for the emergency department at KGH, said the emergency room had to borrow space from other departments to care for the influx of patients.

“We had to put some of the patients in other parts of the hospital to accommodate what we knew was going to happen. … We had about 27 on the Friday night, most of them with severe intoxication to the point where we needed to monitor their breathing and were afraid they were going to aspirate and possibly die.”

On Saturday night, the emergency department saw the same scenario, MacDonald said.

“On Saturday we had 29 cases, the same type of scenario where we had many unconscious intoxicated students,” he said. “They weren’t all students, most of them quite young, 17 to 19 and a few older, but that seems to be the tendency where they arrive by ambulance, we need to monitor them closely so we keep them safe until they wake up.”

MacDonald said a province-wide shortage of healthcare professionals prevented him from putting as many extra staff on hand as he would’ve liked.

“I increased [staff] to as many as I could, not only nurses, doctors, security, housekeeping and lab, we added one extra supervisor,” he said. “It’s not just healthcare professionals, but everything else with it so we can handle the load that comes through the doors. It’s essentially like doubling your staff. They just weren’t available.”

Because less staff were available to work overtime, MacDonald said Homecoming weekend will cost the hospital less than it has in previous years. In 2007, Homecoming weekend cost KGH approximately $25,000 in overtime costs.

“It probably won’t cost as much this year as far as the finance because we weren’t where I thought we needed to be,” he said. “We handled what came through the door, patients were taken care of, but we certainly didn’t have the staff that we did last year.”

MacDonald said the rising trend of emergency room visits for alcohol-related illness and severe injuries cannot continue.

“We know there’s going to be a bad outcome. There’s going to be a tragedy. I’m very concerned. You’re putting not only the people involved in the event, but also the general public at risk,” he said.

“We’re struggling to keep up with what is everyday healthcare system emergency services, and then we’re adding this from the weekend and it seems to get a little bit more every year.”

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