BROCKTON – Mayor Chris Peabody drew attention to the update on the South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) in the Aug. 23 council agenda, and commented, “It’s not so good.”
The report includes information on “significant” staffing challenges over the summer, with fall appearing to be “very challenging” in relation to staffing. The report noted that “one sick call or change to the schedule makes filling the ER difficult.”
Agency nurses are still covering shifts; ONA (Ontario Nurses’ Association) has initiated concerns about using agency nurses. To date, no funding has been received from the province to cover the cost of agency nurses.
Although the situation in Walkerton appears relatively stable at the moment, SBGHC may look at reductions again in Chesley, especially weekend emergency room operations. Staffing concerns are most apparent at the Chesley and Durham sites.
The Walkerton and Chesley emergency rooms were closed overnight this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Peabody has focused his attention on the use of agency nurses in local hospitals. While they have been instrumental in keeping ERs open, they come with a hefty price tag.
“Unless the cost is addressed … the situation is quite dire,” Peabody said, adding, “money is being pulled out of reserves – it’s not sustainable.”
The mayor noted the same thing is happening at the county’s long-term care homes.
“We’re over budget for PSWs and nurses,” he said.
The difference is, with the county’s long-term care homes, the taxpayers will foot the bill for additional costs.
“The hospital board can’t do that,” the mayor said.
He noted that a skilled nurse from the city has come to this area through an agency, and it’s worked out well, but the hospitals need to hire their own nurses and “grow their own talent.”
And there’s a morale issue. Agency nurses make more money than their regular counterparts.
“I did ask Sylvia Jones (Ontario’s health minister) about that at AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario). “You can’t give nurses a two per cent pay raise but you can pay agency nurses more … the system is going to collapse.”
Peabody said municipalities need to pressure the provincial government regarding agency nurses.
“Councils need to push through motions,” he said.
Brockton has experience in the situation, with the closure of the ERs six months ago.
“We know where the weaknesses are, and the solutions,” said Peabody.
He commented that he’d received a call from CBC Radio, looking for comments about the ER closures on the weekend. He wanted to talk about the agency nurse situation, but they weren’t interested.
The hospital situation promises to be a municipal election issue. The past week saw local municipalities post their certified lists of candidates for the October election.
Peabody commented that three of the eight mayors in Bruce County have been acclaimed. Brockton’s mayor and deputy mayor are acclaimed, and there are six people running for five council positions. It’s the same case in Chatsworth, Peabody said.
“We’re the outliers,” he commented.
There are some potentially contentious races in many other municipalities. South Bruce has the DGR issue with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. Peabody also mentioned Owen Sound and South Bruce Peninsula as having races for key positions.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times