Ottawa

Ottawa-area hospitals monitoring staffing levels after weekend ER closures

Two Ottawa-area hospitals that had to close their emergency departments last weekend have not ruled out the possibility there could be other closures in the future.

This weekend's emergency room closures not the end of staffing issues, union warns

‘This is happening across the province’: Hospital emergency rooms struggle with staff shortages

4 months ago
Duration 1:18
Mary Wilson Trider, CEO of the Carleton Place & District Memorial Hospital, says closing the emergency room was a difficult decision but was ultimately made because staff shortages would have affected patient care.

Two Ottawa-area hospitals that closed their emergency departments last weekend have not ruled out the possibility there could be other closures in the future.

The Carleton Place & District Memorial Hospital closed for a 24 hour period from 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday after sending out an announcement late Friday.

Mary Wilson Trider, the hospital's CEO, said the closure was triggered by two uncovered nurse shifts. She said new staff are in the orientation process, but the hospital is still vulnerable.

"I can't say for certain we won't have another [closure]," Wilson Trider said. "We are a small hospital with a small staff and so it doesn't take very much for us to not have enough people."

The Montfort Hospital is one of the six Ontario hospitals, two in the Ottawa area, that had to close emergency or other departments this past weekend. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The Montfort Hospital reopened Monday morning after two twelve-hour closures overnight Saturday and Sunday. The hospital declined CBC's request for an interview Monday.

The hospital, which is Ontario's only francophone community teaching hospital, provided a statement in which it thanked staff who continued to work through difficult circumstances.

"The human resource challenges we face at this time are not unique to Montfort, but our unique character makes the situation very complex, as our staff must be qualified and bilingual," the statement said.

The hospital said it is monitoring staffing levels on a daily basis to maintain 24/7 emergency department services.

Patients re-directed

Wilson Trider said fewer than 10 people showed up to the Carleton Place, Ont., emergency room during their closure. One was admitted after being deemed urgent enough by the physician and nurse who worked through the closure, the rest were re-directed.

Wilson Trider said the hospital announced the closure late Friday because it was trying to avoid having to close.

"It's a case of working as hard as we possibly can to cover the shifts before we make the call to close the emergency department. It is an extremely difficult decision to make," she said.

The Almonte General Hospital, which partners with the Carleton Place hospital through the Mississippi River Health Alliance, experienced a 20 per cent increase in patients during the closure, she said.

The Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital re-directed some patients to the nearby Almonte General Hospital, as well as other eastern Ontario facilities. (Google Street View)

Carleton Place Mayor Doug Black said he hasn't received any complaints related to the emergency department closures, though he'd like to see more advance noticed.

"I feel the anxiety too, for my family, myself," Black said.  "It strikes me that this is more than just an individual small town, Carleton Place emergency. It seems to be a fundamental and almost structural issue nationally."

Black said he'd like to see the federal government work closely with the provinces to address the issues in emergency departments.

'Staffing crisis'

Rachel Muir, president of The Ottawa Hospital bargaining unit for the Ontario Nurses Association, said the emergency department closures didn't come as a surprise after the union raised warnings of understaffing.

Muir said smaller hospitals may face more frequent and longer emergency department closures and hospitals in cities like Ottawa could also experience closures or a reduction of available beds.

"We're all in the same critical staffing crisis," Muir said. "None of these emergency departments should be closing. There is no excuse for it because we've been sounding this bell, loud and long."

The Ottawa Hospital said in a statement Monday it experienced "a slight increase in volumes and ambulances" this weekend. 

The Queensway Carleton Hospital echoed the Ottawa Hospital in a statement of its own, saying its emergency department wasn't "overly impacted" by this weekend's closures, though there was an increase in admissions Monday.   

Ottawa paramedics said there was a lower call volume over the weekend, but still reported 15 level zero events, where no ambulance was available for dispatch, lasting a total of five and a half hours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at matthew.kupfer@cbc.ca and on Twitter @matthewkupfer

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