‘A nurse can’t be everywhere’: Shortage of healthcare staff prompts Ontario ER closure

The recent temporary closures of two Ontario emergency rooms and the consolidation of staff at another have renewed concerns about a shortage of healthcare workers in the province, with doctors and nurses calling on the government to address the problem.

A hospital in Clinton, Ont., temporarily closed its emergency department from Saturday to Monday and a hospital in Kingston, Ont., reduced its urgent care center hours over the weekend to consolidate staffing in its emergency room, and both facilities cited a shortage of doctors and nurses for the moves

In Perth, Ontario, the local site of Perth and Smith Falls District Hospital closed its emergency room on Saturday, with a plan to keep it closed until Thursday as staff, already stretched thin, grapple with an outbreak of coronavirus. COVID-19.

“It’s unprecedented for our community,” Dr. Alan Drummond, an emergency physician at Perth hospital, said in an interview.

“There’s this perfect storm brewing, which is increasing the volume of sick patients with dwindling resources to respond.”

The Perth hospital has seen its emergency room nurses drop from 15 to five in recent months, said Drummond, who also serves as co-chair of public affairs for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

When two nurses recently contracted COVID-19, the Perth emergency room was forced to temporarily close, she said. Administrators said last week that the hospital was in a “staffing crisis.”

Ontario is battling a health care workforce shortage as workers leave hospital functions or the profession altogether after more than two grueling years on the front lines of the pandemic, say organizations representing Ontario. nurses, doctors and public hospitals in the province.

“The staffing shortage is (due to) burnout and people leaving,” said Ontario Nurses Association President Cathryn Hoy.

“But the reason they are running out is because they come in for an eight or 12 hour shift and stay 16 hours. Sometimes they stay 24 hours.”

Today he said he has heard from nurses reporting that emergency rooms are temporarily staffed with a single nurse to cover 30 patients, some hospitals with dozens of vacant emergency positions, and patients seen in hallways.

“A nurse can’t be everywhere,” she said.

The nurses’ union wants the government to expand accelerated programs that help registered professional nurses become registered nurses, as well as reduce waiting times for internationally trained nurses to get their licenses, Hoy said.

The Ontario Hospital Association said staffing shortages and capacity issues are creating backlogs throughout the hospital system, with increased numbers of patients awaiting home care as well as large numbers of patients in intensive care beds who do not require those resources.

The labor shortage appears most pronounced in intensive care and emergency departments, the association said, with rural and northern Ontario hardest hit.

“The situation in these communities remains fragile,” OHA President and CEO Anthony Dale said in a written statement.

Ontario had 609 registered nurses per 100,000 population in 2020, according to data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. That was notably lower than the statistics for Alberta and Quebec.

Meanwhile, the amount of time patients spend in emergency rooms is at its highest point in 14 years, as well as this January, the OHA said. Ambulance unloading times, the time it takes for a hospital to take care of a patient from paramedics, are at a 12-year high, she said.

The Ontario Medical Association said the government should consider creating specialized centers focused on specific surgeries or procedures to help ease hospital burdens.

“We know health care doesn’t follow an election cycle,” said Dr. Samantha Hill, a former president who spoke on behalf of the association. “We need to … commit to more forward-looking systems design and more forward-looking health care designs.”

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health said the province was working to bolster workforce capacity, including with lump-sum retention bonuses and funds to recruit nurses in specific areas of the province.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 5, 2022.

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