BROCKTON – South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) announced Tuesday that the emergency department in Walkerton will resume 24-hour service, effective Monday, May 9.
Hospital CEO Michael Barrett said that the board of directors met Monday evening to discuss restoring full service across the organization.
Also effective that date, the number of acute care beds in Chesley will return to eight, what it was prior to service cuts in late December. This involves adding four acute care beds to the four already restored.
Plans are in place for restoring the Chesley ER to full 24-hour service effective June 16, with the date to be confirmed following the evaluation of how the Walkerton ER reopening goes.
What’s made the reopening possible is the use of agency nurses, casual nurses, externs and midwives, said Barrett.
The overnight closure of the emergency department in Walkerton was announced in late December, when the shortage of nursing staff made the safe operation of the ER on a 24-hour basis impossible.
The ER in Chesley has been closed overnight for two years. Along with the cut in service in Walkerton, the Chesley site saw acute care beds turned into beds for alternate level of care patients – people who no longer need hospital treatment and are ready for transfer to a different level of care, either in the community or at a long-term care home. This measure freed up RNs to work in other areas of the hospital operation.
SBGHC embarked on an ambitious plan to stabilize the nursing situation through a wide range of recruitment and retention initiatives. Implementing the hospital’s plan took place over the past few months with considerable success.
Barrett was asked at a recent Brockton council meeting to provide an estimated date for the ER reopening. He did not do so, saying the announcement would have to wait until more was in place. He’s also stated repeatedly that the ER would not be reopened until it could be done without compromising the safety of patients or staff.
Barrett said Tuesday that the decision to restore full services was made after a thorough evaluation of staffing through until September. A number of factors were looked at, including vacations.
The reopening plan doesn’t come without risk, said Barrett. Should the pool of agency nurses dry up or the regional nursing shortage worsen, there’s a chance for a short-term, temporary service cut.
There’s also a financial risk, he said, noting SBGHC has approached Ontario Health for additional funding. There is an increased cost associated with agency nurses.
However, Barrett said, “The environment has changed… we believe we can reopen safely, although we may face challenges.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times