Several ERs in Newfoundland and Labrador grapple with closures amid staff shortages

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Canadian emergency rooms in crisis as doctors, nurses pushed to brink
The situation in Canada's emergency rooms has grown critical, with patients overwhelming understaffed hospitals and the pandemic pushing facilities to the brink, burning out doctors and nurses. Those who stayed behind are now pleading for action. Abigail Bimman looks at the growing challenges, how patients are suffering, and how there have been deadly consequences – Jul 17, 2022

Multiple emergency rooms in Newfoundland and Labrador are temporarily closing this week as they face a shortage of healthcare workers, according to statements from local public health authorities.

Eastern Health was the latest to announce on Monday that emergency services at the U.S. Memorial Health Centre in St. Lawrence, N.L., will be temporarily closed from July 27 at 8 a.m. to July 29 at 8 a.m. due to current human resource challenges.

The health authority said patients who feel they have a serious or urgent medical problem should call 911 or head to the Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre, or the Dr. S. Beckley Clinic in Grand Bank.

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Last week, Eastern Health announced a temporary closure of emergency services at Dr. William H. Newhook Community Health Centre in Whitbourne, N.L., which will last for a week from July 25 at 8 a.m. to Aug. 1 at 8 a.m.

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Central Health also announced a temporary closure of emergency services on Monday at Dr. Y.K. Jeon Kittiwake Health Centre in New-Wes-Valley, N.L., from July 25 at 4 p.m. to July 27 at 8 a.m.

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According to Central Health, the province’s second-largest health authority, a temporary closure of the emergency room is considered an “absolute last resort” when there are no health-care providers who can manage a patient who needs hands-on care that simply can’t be done over a virtual connection.

Emergency room closures have been seen across Canada in recent weeks as the country’s health-care system grapples with staff shortages and another wave of COVID-19.

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In response to physician shortages, the Newfoundland and Labrador government is temporarily hiking the pay rate for doctors working in the rural emergency rooms, which could amount to as much as $800 a day, Health Minister Tom Osborne told reporters on July 14.

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The incentive will be in place until Oct. 31.

“Our priority is the appropriate delivery of care for our residents, and we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to help us navigate these challenging situations,” Osborne said in a July 14 press release.

Dr. Kris Luscombe, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA), said in a press release published on July 14 that temporary closures of emergency departments in seven rural communities due to physician vacancies put “incredible stress and worry on patients, extra pressure on emergency departments in larger centres, and creates longer wait times.”

Luscombe said the measures “are useful in helping to stabilize our rural health centres by retaining our existing physicians and attracting locums.”

“The NLMA looks forward to additional collaboration with the provincial government to find solutions that will ensure patients have appropriate access to care over the long term,” Luscombe said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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