Patients experiencing homelessness are 14 to 18 times more likely to visit emergency departments (EDs) in Toronto for cold weather-related injuries compared to non-homeless patients, according to a new study from Unity Health Toronto and ICES. The findings highlight the need to increase the number and accessibility of winter services throughout the cold season to prevent future injuries and lessen the strain on city emergency departments, the researchers say.
The study, led by researchers at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and published in The Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, also found that women experiencing homelessness had consistently higher burden of cold-related injuries compared to men experiencing homelessness, relative to their housed counterparts.
“Injuries related to cold exposure are to some extent an unavoidable reality in Canada, but the sheer excess burden among those experiencing homelessness is largely preventable,” said Lucie Richard, senior research associate at MAP and study lead author. “Providing adequate, accessible emergency warming services is not only a compassionate imperative, it’s also necessary to prevent major health-related consequences of cold weather-related injury including nerve damage, amputation, or loss of life.”
Dr. Carolyn Snider, chief of emergency medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, said the study highlights a significant health consequence associated with the lack of access to round-the-clock shelter, particularly in adverse weather conditions. “The distressing effects on patients observed in our emergency departments in Canada are deeply worrisome – especially as they are preventable,” she said.