Every two weeks, Campbellford Memorial Hospital (CMH) in Trent Hills is on the verge of having to close its emergency department (ED).
With the shortage of healthcare personnel across the sector, it is not easy or always possible to staff the emergency department at Campbellford Hospital. The CMH closed the emergency department at the end of 2021 from December 24 at 5 p.m. to December 25 at 7:30 a.m. due to a shortage of nurses.
Although the hospital’s emergency room hasn’t been closed since, CMH is often in a precarious position these days when it comes to keeping the doors open, CMH CEO Eric Hanna said at Brighton Independent.
“All healthcare professionals are in high demand and in short supply,” Hanna said, noting that this is not a situation unique to CMH.
“But we are doing everything we can to prevent an ED shutdown from happening. We have plans in place in case a closure is necessary as well as excellent local partners in both emergency medical services and nearby hospitals to ensure the impact on patient care is minimal.
One of the problems with small hospitals like Campbellford is that one or two healthcare workers miss a given shift, which can lead to closure, the CEO said.
“We would love to hire more part-time RNs who have the skills to work in the emergency department.
Over the past few months, more than 50 people a day have sought care at the Campbellford emergency room, peaking at more than 70 people a day over the May long weekend. This represents an increase of more than 25% in emergency room visits for the 34-bed rural hospital.
“The increase in ER visits on holiday weekends is nothing new, nor is it a busy day here and there, especially in the summer, but what has been different over the past few months is is how busy it gets almost every day,” said Dr. Eshay Elia, ED Chief and Acting Chief of Staff.
“We certainly don’t want to discourage people from going to the ER if they need to, but we do encourage those who have other options, like their family doctor, to consider them first for non-emergency issues.” , added Elia. .
Health Access Ontario, formerly Telehealth, is another way for patients to get non-emergency care. The free program allows patients to speak with a registered nurse online or by calling 811 to discuss their condition and determine if a trip to the emergency room is necessary.
While the increase in patient numbers continues to strain CMH’s emergency department, so does the level of acuity of patients seen and the resulting number of admissions.
Staffing shortages are also taking their toll, and various hospitals across Ontario have had to close their emergency departments, sometimes for days at a time, due to a lack of staff.
CMH’s vacancy rate is around seven percent right now. When taking into account absenteeism based on whether staff are absent due to COVID or other illnesses, it recently hovers around 10%.
At Quinte Health Care (QHC), which includes Trenton Memorial Hospital, the main hospital for Brightonians, ‘the unprecedented pressure on healthcare continues’. That was the message shared at QHC’s board meeting earlier this summer, while marking the board’s final year cycle.
“To say last year was difficult is an understatement,” said President Nancy Evans.
“The multiple waves of COVID outbreaks have strained our healthcare system, our hospitals, our staff, our patients and their families, and our communities like never before.”
And COVID infections are expected to rise again in the fall and winter.
QHC anticipates these impending surges — but they will come on top of seasonal flu rates and in the context of the troubling disruptions that have occurred within the healthcare system, Evans noted, in his report to the board.
“The health human resource challenge is widespread. Although QHC has been more successful than many others in continuing to attract people to work with us, we continue to see retirements or departures.
“Some areas of QHC are facing critical staffing challenges. The health human resource crisis requires an urgent system-wide approach, but one that takes into account the wide variety of settings, hospital sizes and community profiles in Ontario.
QHC is seeing higher patient volumes than pre-COVID – and expects this to continue for the “foreseeable future”.
Evans said it was also due to a mix of patient health situations that escalated during the pandemic; a large percentage of people in the region without regular primary care or access to basic health services, making them dependent on hospitals; and the health profile of the region’s population.
“These volumes can no longer be seen as temporary surges, but as the new normal for QHC. This means that our operating and funding models must adapt.
Evans noted an evolution of regular funding, recognizing the specific realities of local demand and the unique structure of the QHC is needed. Progress towards an evolved funding model must be a top priority for QHC in 2022-23, she added.
Story behind the story: We reached out to area hospitals to see how they were handling the surge in patients and staffing shortages.
-with files by Sarah Hyatt