Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Red Lake Hospital’s ER will temporarily close again due to a doctor shortage in Northwest Ontario. Nation World News

The hospital at Red Lake in northwestern Ontario is closing its emergency room for the second time this year because of a doctor shortage that hospital leaders say is dire, and while some remote First Nations are on the rise in COVID-19 cases which are also putting employees under stress. ,

Margaret Couchner Memorial Hospital’s ER will be closed for 12 hours starting at 8 p.m. CT on Thursday, said Meghan Gilbert, the hospital’s chief nursing executive.

“Unfortunately, we’re again in the situation where we don’t have enough physician resources for a 12-hour period,” Gilbert said. “And so, unfortunately, it will result in us closing our emergency department for the time being.”

The hospital’s ER was also closed for 24 hours over the weekend in March.

Gilbert said the hospital is working to address its physician shortages, a long-standing problem hit especially hard this spring in the region. Hospital leaders across the region say the situation is critical and are looking for any doctor to come to northwestern Ontario.

Doctors and patients across Ontario have described record-setting constraints in emergency rooms across the province, with staff shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic causing staggering wait times and health care workers burning.

“Before our closure in March, it wasn’t something that was really well known,” Gilbert said. “A lot of effort has gone toward advocating for things like equitable funding, which considers the realities of northern travel.

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“We know that traveling right now is extremely challenging for many people.”

Difficulty in recruiting doctors

Red Lake Hospital is also focusing on recruiting more doctors, working with regional and provincial health care providers to bring in more local (temporary) physicians. However, it has proved difficult.

We are all tired of this pandemic. It has put many restrictions on our life. The health care workforce is so burnt out and we don’t have the workforce to address, at this point in time, even the rise in COVID-19 cases.– Dr. Lloyd Douglas, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority

Gilbert said bringing in more nurse practitioners, or physician assistants, could also help with the shortage.

“I think more money will always help, but unfortunately it is not the only and only answer to this problem. I think there is a widespread shortage of physicians.”

Gilbert said another issue is that many staff physicians at the hospital are nearing the end of their careers, and not enough new physicians are coming in to live and work at Red Lake to replace them.


Have you or someone close to you recently had a prolonged stay at an emergency room in northwestern Ontario? Email Nation World News to tell us about your experience.


Some additional positions have been created for Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) graduates, but Gilbert said this is a long-term solution and still leaves short-term gaps that will need to be filled.

The good news, Gilbert said, is that ER closure has raised awareness of the problem.

“No one wants to see this happen in any of our communities,” she said. “I think there has been a lot of attention and recognition that this is a problem and that we have to take actionable steps toward finding short-term and long-term solutions.”

Shortly after news of the upcoming closure was announced, NDP MPP Sol Mamawaka wrote to Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones calling for something to be done about the physician shortage.

Mamakwa wants the province to implement a series of measures that have already been proposed by health leaders in the region, including:

  • Creating better incentives for physician recruitment in Northwest Ontario.
  • Accelerating licensing requirements for internationally trained practitioners to work in the field
  • The return of service at NOSM increases opportunities for students and residents to work in the field.

NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa, shown speaking at Queen’s Park during Question Hour, is calling on Health Minister Sylvia Jones to address the doctor shortage in northwestern Ontario. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

He said, “It is unacceptable that in a province like Ontario, thousands of northerners are being left without life-saving care. This is made worse by the fact that this closure is no surprise – we did it.” had guessed.” “So, we should have been prepared for it.”

This week’s 12-hour ER shutdown at Red Lake ends at 8 a.m. Friday.

“During that time, patients are unfortunately unable to attend the emergency department, but if they are experiencing a serious emergency health problem, they are able to call 911,” Gilbert said. “EMS services will be available.

“They also have the option of taking themselves to the next nearest hospital. We are only advertising a telehealth line as well as another resource.”

First nation to experience COVID-19 surge

Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority public health physician Dr. Lloyd Douglas said health workers in remote First Nations are facing similar fatigue amid the growth of COVID-19.

Currently, there are more than 500 cases, almost double the total from two weeks ago, Douglas said.

“Every nursing station is still open, none has been closed, but they have minimal staff,” he said. “What can be provided in terms of services may come down to emergency service and urgent services.”

Red Lake Hospital's ER will temporarily close again due to a doctor shortage in Northwest Ontario. Nation World News
A patient is tested for COVID-19 in the Bearskin Lake First Nation during an outbreak earlier this year. There are currently about 500 cases in the remote First Nations of northwestern Ontario. (Submitted by Sharon Engekoneb)

Similar to hospitals in Ontario, Douglas said, First Nations staff dealing with burnout as the pandemic continues, there are also long-term structural systemic issues.

“We are all tired of this pandemic. It has put a lot of restrictions on our lives,” he said. “The health care workforce is so burnt out and we don’t have the workforce to address, at this point in time, even the rise in COVID-19 cases.”

Thunder Bay Staffing Stable

In another part of northwestern Ontario, the emergency room at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center will be operating 24 hours a day.

Staffing at TBRHSC is stable, although ER has seen a 30 percent increase in visits since the beginning of 2022.

A hospital spokesperson said ER visitors are waiting an average of 1.6 hours for an initial evaluation by a doctor. The average visit to a TBRHSC ER lasts just three hours for minor health issues and four and a half hours for more serious issues.

The spokesman said that this is in line with the provincial average.

Nation World News Desk
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