The shortage of nurses has led to the closure of the emergency department at the Chesley hospital for the next eight weeks, during which time the level of service that can be provided at South Bruce Grey Health Centre’s four hospitals will be evaluated.Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 14, 2022 at 07:40

Chesley ON hospital ED closed for the next eight weeks – services ‘being evaluated’ at four hospitals

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CHESLEY – It was during the Oct. 6 meeting of Bruce County council that the public first became aware the temporary full closure of the emergency department at the Chesley site of South Bruce Grey Health Centre was coming, although there had been rumblings prior to that.

Later in the day, the official announcement came that Chesley’s emergency department will be fully closed from Friday, Oct. 7 until Friday, Dec. 2, due to a critical shortage of nurses.

The inpatient unit, community lab collections and diagnostic imaging services in Chesley will remain open and operational for the community.

When the Chesley emergency department reopened in June after being closed nights for the previous two years, there was a caution that there could be additional temporary closures. That has been happening. The hospital’s emergency department has been closed overnight since the start of September. A hospital press release stated there have been several times in the past three weeks that emergency has had to close for full days because of the overall shortage of nurses.

The press release further stated, “These short notice decisions are not a sustainable approach for our staff or the communities we serve, and a further reduction in service is necessary for the safety of our patients and staff.”

During the Oct. 5 meeting of the SBGHC’s board of directors, the question of sustainability of the present hospital format was touched on, along with its cause – the ongoing shortage of nurses that affects the entire province. The press release stated that SBGHC “will be evaluating the level of service that can be safely provided at the organization’s four hospital sites in the longer term with the staffing resources available, recognizing that the provincial health human resource (HHR) shortage will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future.”

Locally, the problem has been exacerbated through the use of agency nurses to fill scheduling gaps – a mixed blessing. Agency nurses cost a lot and are not committed to the hospital corporation – their employer is the agency, not the hospital.

Moreover, as stated in the press release, “Our nurses do not feel valued when the agency nurses are making more money for doing the same work.

The press release reiterated what was said at the board meeting, that SBGHC ‘would much rather be putting the extra cost spent on agency nurses into the pockets of our own staff, who have worked tirelessly to support our organization and our communities. The unfortunate reality is that without using agency nurses at this time, the organization would be looking at additional closures and reductions in service.”

While active recruitment continues for nurses – with some, albeit limited success – the pool of available nurses is very limited across the province.

“The health human resources shortage in the province is very challenging for all health care organizations. There are simply not enough licensed health care providers in the system – nurses, doctors, medical lab techs, etc. – to continue to provide the level of service that has been provided to date,” said Michael Barrett, SBGHC CEO. “For nursing specifically, the shortage is being amplified by the incentive to work as an agency nurse.”

In the last month, CBC’s The National news broadcast has featured two stories on the staffing challenges in the health-care system, from a rural perspective at the Chesley hospital and an urban perspective at Kingston General Hospital, both of which have been faced with recent ED closures. The full story is available at www.cbc.ca/news/health/overworked-er-health-care-rural-urban-1.6602032.

The story segment about Chesley said that when the emergency department is closed, patients are referred to the nearest hospital emergency departments – the closest hospital is in Hanover, a 20-minute drive. If necessary, Chesley hospital staff will call an ambulance for them. The time factor can be critical in a farming community where accidents can happen involving machinery – as well as heart attacks, strokes and respiratory issues.

For more information on the service reductions at the Chesley hospital, check SBGHC’s website at www.sbghc.on.ca/hospital-service-reductions-due-to-nursing-shortages.

A virtual community information session was scheduled on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m., at the Chesley Community Centre, where SBGHC staff and physicians were to be on hand to answer questions and provide information to the community.

This item reprinted with permission from   The Herald-Times   Walkerton, Ontario

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