TORONTO — Municipal leaders in small Ontario communities are sounding the alarm over temporary closures of hospital emergency rooms and say action is needed to ensure local residents and visitors to those areas can get care. what do you need.
Hospitals have cited critical staffing shortages from the closures, and organizations representing doctors and nurses have noted workers are exhausted and walking off duty after two years on the front lines of the pandemic.
In Perth, Ontario, where the local hospital emergency room has been closed since July 2, the city’s mayor said he worries that rural hospitals have become an “endangered breed.”
Mayor John Fenik compared the health system to a quilt that “slowly falls apart.”
“Strings are coming out of it. And if the ministry doesn’t do something now, today, and get together and sit down with people who are much smarter than me to figure this out, we’re going to have some real problems,” he said.
“I think rural hospitals are an endangered species.”
The local emergency room has been closed until further notice as the hospital grapples with an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff that has been magnified by a critical shortage of workers. The patients were directed to a partner hospital in Smiths Falls, about 20 kilometers to the east.
Fenik said the closure of the emergency room has devastated the community, skewing the elderly and drawing tourists and farmers from nearby Ottawa during the summer months. The city, he said, expects thousands of visitors for this weekend’s Stewart Park Festival.
“This keeps me up at night because I don’t want anyone to get hurt and not get the care they need,” he said.
“Closing an emergency room is critical. It is a fundamental piece of the hospital care system.”
In Mount Forest, Ontario, Louise Marshall Hospital announced Monday that it would close its emergency room on Saturday and Sunday nights due to gaps in nursing coverage and an outbreak of COVID-19.
“Our staff has been going above and beyond for more than two years and we cannot ask them to do more,” Angela Stanley, the hospital’s president and CEO, wrote in a statement on the hospital’s website.
In Huron County, emergency rooms in Clinton, Ont., and Seaforth, Ont., were scheduled to close their doors Monday and Tuesday nights.
Bernie Bailey, mayor of North Huron Township in Huron County, said the federal and provincial governments must find ways to bring more people to rural Ontario to support the health care system.
Otherwise, he fears the combination of a grueling pandemic and chronic staffing shortages could prove disastrous for small towns.
“In 10 years, we could look back and say, ‘Wow, this destroyed rural Ontario’s healthcare system,’” he said.
“Whether it’s a tourist or a farmer, or a factory worker… we need the emergency room there. We need to have them here.”
Huron County Director Glen McNeil tried to reassure residents that when a hospital temporarily closes its emergency room, there is another nearby to accommodate patients.
But, he said, with no foreseeable end to staffing shortages and to support remaining workers, local hospitals are venturing into a “new norm.”
“There will be hospitals that will have emergency rooms that are open 24 hours a day, but they may not be as close as they have been in the past,” said McNeil, who serves as chairman of the board for Alexandra Marine and General Hospital.
“We must support our staff, preserve our staff, and we can do business differently.”
Health care spending was expected to be a top item on the agenda when Canada’s prime ministers meet in Victoria this week for two days of meetings. Prime ministers are pressing the federal government to increase its share of health care spending from 22 percent to 35 percent.
The chief of Perth County in southwestern Ontario, where two hospital emergency rooms temporarily closed this weekend due to staffing shortages, said money is “not the only answer.”
“I want to see a plan for where they are going to put these people and where they are going to come from,” said Jim Aitcheson, the county director, referring to health care workers. “Sooner or later, it will have to be a topic of discussion. And I hope it will be sooner rather than later.”
Recent closures, though mostly in smaller communities, have also spread to urban centers: The urgent care center at Peel Memorial in Brampton, Ont., closed earlier than usual on Sunday before reopening Monday afternoon. morning.
The union representing Ontario nurses has called on the government to expand accelerated programs that help practical RNs become registered nurses, as well as reduce wait times for internationally trained nurses to obtain their licenses.
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 target areas across the province.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 11, 2022.