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Hamilton Health Sciences still grappling with staffing shortage despite more than 500 new hires

Hamilton Health Sciences is urging people to avoid visiting the emergency department this long weekend, as staffing pressures continue to overwhelm the system. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Physicians at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) are urging people to do their best to avoid making a trip to the emergency department this long weekend, as staffing pressures continue to overwhelm the system.

Dr. Kuldeep Sidhu, the chief of emergency medicine at HHS, told Global News that they continue to operate at well over 100 per cent capacity – even 110 per cent some days – across the hospital system.

“The entire health-care service sector is understaffed and so it’s harder to have patients discharged out to community care and to long-term care. There’s not enough health care and home care that’s available in the community … then you throw in summertime and holidays and illnesses and injuries and it’s made a bad situation worse.”

Read more: Ongoing worker shortage means long wait times for service at Hamilton hospitals, say officials

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The situation is particularly severe at Juravinski Hospital, which is often operating at 120 per cent occupancy, despite being designed to serve fewer patients overall.

COVID-19 is still having an impact too, as 168 staff across the hospital system are currently isolating and there are four outbreaks at HHS hospitals – one at Juravinski, one at the downtown Satellite Health Facility, and two at Hamilton General Hospital.

Click to play video: 'Code Blue: A Canadian healthcare system in crisis'
Code Blue: A Canadian healthcare system in crisis

Both HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton said earlier this summer that they were engaging in “aggressive recruitment efforts” to mitigate the staffing shortages.

Those efforts have resulted in more than 500 new health-care workers coming on board over the past few months and while that hasn’t helped alleviate the pressures as much as they’d hoped, Dr. Sidhu said it’s a good sign that people still want to be involved in the profession.

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Read more: Hospital staffing strain ‘unprecedented,’ could peak soon: Ontario Health exec

“When you’re dealing with a hospital that has more than 200 additional patients … it becomes tiring, day in, day out,” he said.

“But the staff still want to be in the profession of looking after people, and I think that’s why we have been successful at recruiting 500 people.”

HHS is calling for the public to seek care outside of the emergency department if they can manage to do so over the Labour Day long weekend, as the emergency department is always much busier over holiday weekends.

Dr. Sidhu is asking those who need to visit the hospital to be patient with staff and expect long wait times. Alternatives options include visiting an urgent care clinic or calling Health Connect Ontario if their medical issue isn’t serious enough to warrant a hospital visit.

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