Human resource pressures facing Grey-Bruce Emergency Departments this summer

Many hospitals across Ontario are experiencing staffing shortages, and the lack of availability of emergency department (ED) physicians and nursing staff is putting significant pressure on local hospitals to remain open heading into the summer months.

Hospitals within Grey and Bruce regions include Hanover District Hospital, South Bruce Grey Health Centre hospitals and Grey Bruce Health Services hospitals. Maintaining 24/7 emergency department operations has been a priority for all hospitals, though these EDs have increasingly become more vulnerable.

Sustained HHR challenges and post pandemic fall-out as hospitals continue to work towards a return to full capacity have resulted in tremendous pressure on the ability to keep all ED services open this summer. As a result, there is a growing reality that ED closures are likely in the coming months.

Despite having a roster of local physicians regularly working in the emergency departments, we do not yet have the capacity to fill all required shifts. As a result, hospitals have increasingly relied on physicians travelling to our regions to keep the emergency departments open 24/7. The demand for these physicians across the province is affecting many hospitals that require these limited resources.

Nursing shortages are also causing pressures across many hospital departments, including EDs. Some hospitals are depending heavily on nursing ‘agency’ staff who also travel from a distance to keep emergency services going.

There are a number of proactive initiatives in place to support patients with their care outside of an emergency visit. Virtual urgent care continues to be available for residents in Grey and Bruce regions. Enhanced recruitment efforts are well developed. Local Hospital CEOs and leadership are working together to ensure an emergency department will be open and available within a reasonable distance at all times

Community hospitals typically see a very small number of patients between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Regardless of volumes, an accessible and staffed emergency department within a reasonable distance is essential. Temporary service reductions are being discussed as a last resort. Unfortunately, it is expected that contingency plans will need to be put in place where staffing shortages make it unsafe to keep the doors open.

An extensive communications plan has been developed to ensure that the public is promptly notified of any ED closures. We have worked with Grey and Bruce EMS and Air Ornge to prepare for diversion should one of the EDs need to reduce its hours.

When possible, notification of a temporary closure will be provided 48 hours in advance through radio, newspapers, on-line news, social media, and signage in the impacted area.

In emergency situations, we are reminding the public to call 911, as ambulances will always transport patients to the best location for care.