Kitchener-Waterloo

Some regional hospitals getting high volume of patients amid Ontario-wide health-care staff shortage

Ontario's health-care staff shortage is being felt at hospitals in the Waterloo region, with people being told to avoid the emergency department or to expect long wait times.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones says ‘all options are on the table’ to deal with problem

A person is brought into the emergency department of Toronto General Hospital on Aug. 4 after it issued an alert about staff shortages in its critical-care unit. Recently, across Ontario, many emergency departments have had to close for hours or days at a time, and health officials say it's due to a nurse staffing crisis. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

Ontario's health-care staff shortage is being felt at hospitals in the Waterloo region, with people being told to avoid the emergency department (ED) or to expect long wait times.

Wendy James, manager of St. Mary's General Hospital emergency department, said the number of patients being cared for "is higher than normal." 

James is advising people that if their needs are non-emergent in nature, they should continue to access options available within the community, whenever possible, such as their primary care provider or their nearest walk-in clinic.

"We ask for everyone's patience as our teams prioritize the needs of each patient," James said in a written statement to CBC K-W.

"As a region, we continue to work together as a system of care to support patients in our community."

In spite of the challenges, James said, the emergency department remains open.

"Our team is here to provide high-quality care, and if you are in need of emergency care, please do not hesitate to go to your nearest hospital or call 911."

A worker at Guelph General Hospital is shown in April 2021, over a year after the pandemic set in. On Wednesday, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said 'all options are on the table' to deal with the province's major staff shortage problem. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Emergency departments across Ontario have had to close for hours or days at a time this summer, and health-care officials say that's due to a nurse staffing crisis. Some small rural hospitals have been hit harder than larger urban hospitals.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said "all options are on the table" to deal with the province's major staff shortage problem, and didn't rule out privatization as a potential solution. 

Cambridge Memorial Hospital spokesperson Stephan Beckhoff said up to 33 staff have been off at certain times this summer due to COVID-19.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital spokesperson Stephan Beckhoff says they have seen up to 33 staff off at certain times this summer due to COVID-19. (Google Maps)

Beckhoff said people should be aware that emergency department wait times are higher than what's listed on the hospital's website.

According to Beckhoff, this is due to the hospital being at capacity, with 94 per cent of medicine beds being occupied while being short-staffed.

"When this happens, admitted patients wait in the emergency department. This in turn takes ED clinicians away from those waiting to be seen as they now have to care for very sick patients," Beckhoff said.

Beckhoff said they are experiencing "higher patient volumes, most of whom are coming into the ED very sick."

Additionally, Beckhoff said, patients who are more severely ill need more tests, and this can cause longer wait times.

At Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, communications manager Cheryl Evans said, "We are experiencing a high volume of patients."

Evans said emergency department visits are on pace to reach 77,752 for the first quarter of fiscal year 2022-2023, compared to 72,886 for fiscal year 2021-2022.

Advocates have urged Premier Doug Ford to repeal public sector wage restraint legislation — Bill 124 — that he introduced in 2019, saying it is harming efforts to recruit and retain nurses.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Desmond Brown

Web Writer / Editor

Desmond joined CBC News in October 2017. He previously worked with The Associated Press, Caribbean Media Corporation and Inter Press Service. You can reach him at: desmond.brown@cbc.ca.

With files from Aastha Shetty

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