GREY-BRUCE – Measures are being taken to alleviate the staffing shortage that forced cuts to service at the Walkerton and Chesley hospitals just after Christmas, said South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) CEO Michael Barrett.
However, the focus right across the province at the moment is on the larger picture.
“Health care is in a really precarious situation right now,” he said.
Barrett explained that in compliance with provincial directives, the four SBGHC sites, along with all other hospitals in Ontario, will be “implementing a ramp-down of non-emergency and non-urgent surgeries” and other procedures, to free up health workers.
“There is a significant number of staff off sick or because they are high-risk contacts,” said Barrett.
Barrett said that the Ontario Ministry of Health and Ontario Health are “completely aware” of the situation at SBGHC and are working with the board on “restoring (Walkerton and Chesley hospitals) to complete services.”
It isn’t only Grey-Bruce that is experiencing a staffing shortage, especially with nurses. And it isn’t only hospitals, but also long-term care.
“There’s a very significant shortage of health human resources right across the province,” said Barrett.
Among the measures being taken locally to help alleviate the shortage is finding agency nurses to fill in the gaps. Barrett said the recent attention generated by the board’s decision to close the Walkerton hospital’s emergency room from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and to have only alternate level of care in-patients at the Chesley site (ALC patients are those who no longer require hospital treatment but still need care) led a couple of agencies to approach SBGHC. “Two (agency) nurses are starting next week,” Barrett said in an interview Friday.
Barrett added, “We’re pleased to bring them aboard,” but noted agency nurses are not a permanent solution.
This is where the province could be of assistance in co-ordinating the agencies regarding placing nurses in prioritized areas, he said.
“They already do this with physicians,” he said, adding he’d like to see a similar program for nurses.
The other initiative that’s being explored by SBGHC is the Internationally Educated Nurses program. Barrett said Trillium Health Care in Mississauga has hired 30 of these nurses. They’re brought in as externs, similar to nursing students, and work for a year toward getting their Ontario certification.
Barrett said the board of directors of SBGHC is also actively seeking out board representation for the Brockton-South Bruce area – as it has for the past two years.
He explained that the board is “skill-based,” unlike some that require geographic representation, but having all hospital areas represented on the board is important. Letters were sent out to the business community and board vacancies were posted, with no expressions of interest from the Brockton-South Bruce area, the past two years.
“We would love to have representation from Brockton and South Bruce,” Barrett said.
The board has been criticized for membership that is heavily weighted in favour of the Kincardine area.
Barrett reiterated that the board’s decision that directly affected the Walkerton and Chesley hospitals, and other area hospitals and emergency services indirectly, wasn’t made lightly.
“It was made to protect staff,” Barrett said.
When the staffing couldn’t meet the services provided, the services had to be cut back to where staff could cope. The plan is, and always has been, to restore full services.
He said he truly appreciates the way the Walkerton community groups got behind the staff at Christmas and showed their support by providing gift certificates for every staff member.
“That was great to see,” he said.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times