Hospital closures may continue this summer

·3 min read

LISTOWEL – After emergency room closures on Canada Day had residents surprised, and closures last weekend had residents worried, CEO of the Listowel Wingham Hospitals Alliance (LWHA) Karl Ellis says that hospital closures may continue this summer.

“We do have a couple of other dates later on in the summer that are at risk,” Ellis said. “We’re working really hard to fill those, but it’s a really challenging time.”

They are not releasing those dates just yet in fairness to their staff and managers – so that they have the opportunity to work on those dates right until the point of no return.

The current closures have been related to nursing shortages, though Ellis notes there are shortages across the health-care system, including physicians, lab techs, and diagnostic imaging staff.

From a policy perspective, he says that a key point is wages.

“Public sector wages were generally frozen at 1 per cent increases for a three-year period. I know that is been raised as an issue by certain bargaining groups,” said Ellis. “The province did provide the nursing retention bonuses, as well; however, there’s only so many people to go around. Providing additional retention bonuses doesn’t really solve the numbers problem that we’re dealing with in these small hospitals.

“I think there is a strong role for the ministry and the government to play in health system planning – to look at the population within Ontario and the distribution of people in the province and the distribution of health professionals and make sure that we’ve got the right people in the right places and that the services are available within reasonable distances. In certain areas of southwestern Ontario, there’s a large number of emergency departments fairly close together. That’s not the case in other places in the province. So, there is a provincial role to play in health system planning.”

On June 29, the LWHA announced they would be closed on Canada Day night, opening back up on Saturday morning. Ellis said that they were not aware of any issues regarding this specific closure. Emergencies were successfully diverted to other nearby hospitals. Closures continued on July 9 in Listowel and at Wingham and District Hospital on July 9, 10, and 11.

Ellis says that he understands the emotional response of the community, saying that it’s been an emotional time for staff as well, but this was the only option available at this time.

“I know some people were inquiring around why it’s weekend versus during the week,” he said. “We have more nursing staff in particular scheduled during the week for functions like operating room and in other ambulatory care services. During the week, we have more flexibility to pull some of those staff into other areas. We don’t have that flexibility on weekends.

“One of our emergency departments has eight full-time staff and right now we have four of those staff members off as a result of either maternity leave or sick leave. That’s a big chunk of those full-time staff off and we haven’t been able to backfill those hours with part-time staff.

“In small hospitals, when you have a limited number of people to go around, it doesn’t take much of a hiccup in scheduling or the availability of staff to result in a crisis situation. Summer staffing is always challenging, but with more than a typical number of people being off, it makes it really challenging.”

Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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