BRUCE COUNTY – The local shortage of health-care personnel, particularly nurses and lab people, hit critical earlier this month in southern Bruce County.
The situation is not new, and it’s not isolated. It’s affecting the entire region and province, said South Bruce Grey Health Centre CEO Michael Barrett.
“It’s making it hard to deliver our services,” he added. “The significant shortage is very challenging for all hospitals to maintain services.”
The emergency departments at hospitals in Chesley, and nearby Clinton, part of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance, have not been able to operate on a full 24/7 basis for some time. The situation isn’t improving, and the two have joined forces to seek assistance from the province.
During the August long weekend, Barrett said the Clinton emergency department closed for a full day due to a staff shortage.
The situation in Clinton was highlighted in a recent, hard-hitting episode of the CBC Radio program White Coat, Black Art.
Although the Clinton closure was a first, at least for this area, it came close to being repeated recently at one of the SBGHC sites. Barrett didn’t specify which one, but said in an interview Sept. 9, “Last weekend, we came precariously close to reducing services in one of our ERs.”
It’s a situation Barrett expects to continue throughout the fall.
At SBGHC, the pandemic has exacerbated existing staffing issues. Barrett explained that there are a number of younger nurses, meaning maternity leaves. Throughout the 18 months of the pandemic, staff members have “worked non-stop.”
Barrett said they’ve been “fantastic, working extra hours” to ensure hospital services continue to operate. But this can only go on for so long, with such measures as managers taking front-line shifts in other departments after a full week of work.
“We will never jeopardize the quality of care we give,” said Barrett. Cutting back hours would come before that happened. “Last week we notified all our key partners to let them know...fortunately, we did not have to reduce services.”
He stressed that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the hospital human resources, especially in rural communities, but the staffing shortage existed before the pandemic hit.
“We’ve been advocating provincially for assistance for small rural hospitals since the fall of 2019,” said Barrett.
That assistance has to come sooner rather than later, if local emergency rooms are to remain open.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times