Northern Ontario could be on the verge of seeing hospital emergency rooms close as staffing shortages show no signs of abating.
Dr. Sarah Newbery, a family physician and associate dean of physician workforce strategy at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), said that in the region, staffing levels are “really quite tenuous”.
“I think a lot of it right now is burnout,” Newbery said. I think people have worked very hard in health care over the past two years as we have worked to manage the pandemic and continue to provide all the usual care that people expect and deserve. »
“So I think the staff are tired.”
Resignations or retirements also create a pinch in staffing levels, causing hospitals to struggle to fill gaps left by experienced staff.
Newbery said most hospitals rely on locums or short-term temporary staff to maintain levels, but as all facilities face their own staffing shortages, there have been fewer locums for everyone.
The problem is compounded by furloughs for staff infected with COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, in the North, we just don’t have the capacity headroom to be able to bring people in quickly to be able to replace staff who are sick,” Newbery said. “And sometimes that has meant service closures.”
Mike Baker, president and CEO of Temiskaming Hospital, said it was difficult to ensure the emergency room remained open and functioning.
“It’s something we’ve been dealing with for several years now, where our occupancy rates are over 90%,” Baker said. “It’s because of a growing problem of alternative levels of care in our area.”
Baker estimates that 50% of the hospital’s patients should be in long-term care, but there is a shortage of beds. The pandemic has just put additional pressure on the cracks already present in the healthcare system.
“We’ve been dealing with this for years now, and it led us to look at agency nurses as a solution,” he said. “It’s a very expensive solution, so we don’t like to use it.”
Agency nurses, Baker said, perform the same duties as hospital nurses, but are better paid through a third-party or private agency, often from southern Ontario. Despite their costs, demand for agency nurses has skyrocketed during the pandemic, Baker said.
It is an expensive alternative.-Mike Baker
It becomes expensive as these traveling nurses require room, board and travel expenses.
“It’s an expensive alternative and in a perfect world you wouldn’t use those resources,” Baker said. “But when you’re talking about emergency medicine and keeping a hospital open when there are already shortages in other areas of health care, and you’re carrying that load, for example, long-term care , then you really have no choice.”
“The alternative of closing departments because we don’t have enough staff is simply not something we can afford, given our location and distance to other centers. taller.”
In Sudbury, a spokesperson for Health Sciences North, the region’s largest hospital, said its emergency department remained open for urgent care needs.
“Like other hospitals in Ontario, HSN has experienced significant staffing challenges across our organization, particularly over the past two months in the areas of acute care, emergency and critical care,” the statement read. .
“There are many reasons for the current state of staffing across the province, including retirements, people choosing other employment options and a limited number of new grads to hire. .
“Staffing shortages make it difficult for patients and families to access care at HSN. Staffing shortages are also creating challenges for our frontline staff, especially when patient volume and disease acuity have returned to pre-pandemic or higher levels.
Sault Ste. Marie has full state of doctors
A statement from Ila Watson, Chief Executive Officer of Sault Area Hospital and Dr. Silvana Spadafora, Hospitals Chief of Staff, said that despite “continuing fragility” in the healthcare system, staff continue to be prepared to provide care in the community.
“Our emergency department is seeing a return to pre-pandemic patient volumes, as people who have delayed access to care are meeting their health care needs, and people who cannot access care with their primary care providers or who do not have a family caregiver come to the Emergency Department for care,” the statement read.
But the hospital may not, for now, be as badly affected as other facilities in the north.
“Our emergency department has a full roster of physicians, reducing the risk of physician shortages as seen elsewhere,” the statement said.
“We are reassured by this stable component of our care team. However, like many communities across Canada, our nursing and clinical support teams have experienced shortages that are impacting the delivery of care.
“To mitigate this impact, as our emergency department provides many levels of care, we are redeploying staff and physicians within the department to meet the most critical patient care needs.”