Ontario hospitals continue to deal with significant staffing shortages

Nurses tend to a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at the Bluewater Health Hospital in Sarnia, Ont., on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young. CHY

Increased wait times, temporary emergency room closures and staffing shortages continues to be a major issue at hospitals across Ontario.

Many hospitals are operating at critical staffing levels while dealing with an increase in COVID-19, influenza and respiratory virus cases this fall.

Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) hasn’t had to close its emergency department, but officials tell Global News that staffing levels are often low while some members are off sick and approximately 140 full-time positions hospital-wide remain unfilled.

“Our circumstances aren’t unique,” Dr. Lynn Mikula, PRHC chief medical executive and executive vice-president said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: PRHC reports record 53 inpatients, 4 outbreaks

“It’s a sector-wide problem across health care. Some days are better than others and some days are worse than others.”

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Mikula said the hospital was active recruiting for the open positions.

At Ross Memorial Hospital (RMH) in Lindsay, a facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Wednesday.

Amid widespread staffing shortages, 20 staff members were out with COVID-19 on Thursday with another 16 expected to join them due to exposure.

“Nurses and physicians are already working short-staffed and the other staff too,” Anne Overhoff, RMH chief nursing executive said.

Click to play video: 'Hospitals in Ontario face significant staffing shortages'
Hospitals in Ontario face significant staffing shortages

Campbellford Memorial Hospital (CMH) has had to close its emergency department twice over the last 11 months – once around Christmas and again for one evening in the summer due to a shortage of nurses.

While the hospital recently received three applications for work by registered nurses, it’s still dealing with low staffing numbers.

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“We’re on the cusp all the time when it comes to staffing,” said CMH interim president and CEO Eric Hanna.

“We’ve done staffing to Jan. 5, 2023, and there are days where it’s tenuous but we’re still a month and a half out and you’re making calls to fill those shifts.”

More recently, the Chesley site of South Bruce Grey Health Centre announced it was closing its emergency department from Oct. 7 to Dec. 2 due to a shortage of nurses.

“((The nursing shortage) has been going on for a long time,” said Cathryn Hoy, registered nurse and Ontario Nurses’ Association president.

“Even pre-pandemic. The Ontario Nurses’ Association had been lobbying the pre-Ford government, the Wynne government, for nurses back then. We were already about 20,000 nurses short back then.  We’re still saying 22,000, no it’s not, it’s closer to 30,000 nurses short now.

“We have some hospitals that have 500-700 nursing jobs open. The numbers are outrageous.”

Hoy says the government needs to support and retain the nurses they have now.

Click to play video: '‘My phone blows up day and night’: Ontario nurses union president demands action to address health care staffing shortage'
‘My phone blows up day and night’: Ontario nurses union president demands action to address health care staffing shortage

“Frankly, they need to repeal Bill 124.  Take the nurses and show them the respect they deserve. They’ve been working 24/7, ridiculous shifts. They’re burnt out.  They’re suffering PTSD. The skill mix is inappropriate working in the units. A heartbeat and a stethoscope doesn’t make you an ER nurse; that comes with years of experience,” Hoy said.

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“It’s about workload. If you go in and you’re one nurse and you have 15 patients, how can you possibly meet your college standards and ensure those patients are receiving the care they deserve? Medications are to be given on time. Can you imagine having 15 patients and someone codes? You only have two nurses on the floor, three if you’re lucky – that’s not going to have a positive outcome.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: HKPR declares facility wide outbreak at Ross Memorial Memorial in Lindsay

In an emailed statement, the Ontario Ministry of Health referred to the province’s Plan to Stay Open as a way to deal with the ongoing issues at hospitals.

“Once fully implemented, the next phase of the Plan to Stay Open will add up to 6,000 more health care workers, including nurses and personal support workers, to Ontario’s health workforce, will free up over 2,500 hospital beds so that care is there for those who need it, and will expand models of care that provide better, more appropriate care to avoid unnecessary visits to emergency departments.”

The Ministry went onto say the government had added more than 3,500 new critical care, acute and post-acute hospital beds and more than 11,700 health-care workers, including nurses and personal support workers and more than 1,000 internationally educated nurses.

“We’re a day late and a dollar short. The government needs to do something now. I know we hear, ‘oh we’re hiring X amount of nurses and X amount of PSWs.’ If you were doing that, if you truly were, where are they?” asked Hoy.

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“Why are we so short?  Why are we suffering like this?”

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