Shortage of healthcare workers presents a serious challenge to Niagara’s hospital system


There is no greater problem facing Ontario hospitals today than the severe shortage of healthcare workers.

These challenges are unprecedented and we will face them for years to come.

Niagara Health staff and physicians are taking extraordinary steps every day to minimize the impact on services. No area of ​​the hospital is spared, requiring us to align our services with available staffing levels to provide safe, quality care and care for our staff.

These labor shortages are also felt throughout the health care system – from hospitals to home and community care, long-term care and primary care – resulting in longer wait times.

The provincial government recently announced its strategy to build health system capacity and add health human resources. We are also updating our organizational priorities through our current strategic planning process which will focus our local attention over the next five years and support our efforts to address what has become an unsustainable situation.

The pressures at Niagara Health have become more apparent in our emergency departments, which is a similar experience for other hospitals in Ontario. We are all grappling with high patient volumes and staffing pressures in our emergency department and other factors within our respective hospitals and communities that contribute to emergency department pressures.

A number of hospitals temporarily closed their emergency rooms for short periods over the summer, and I am grateful that we have been able to keep our three wards and two urgent care centers staffed and open.

Our ERs are the busiest areas of the hospital and see an average of 400 patients each day. During the month of July, 2,000 emergency room patient visits were for non-emergencies, and I ask our community to use our healthcare system wisely by considering the many other healthcare options available when they do not need serious medical care.

Connecting with your family doctor or other primary care provider, visiting a walk-in clinic, or accessing our new virtual emergency care in non-emergency situations will help alleviate pressures at the hospital and will help you get quick access to the right level of care. . A comprehensive resource can be found on our Niagara Health website to help you make the right decision.

Another pressure point is with our anesthesiologists.

On several occasions this summer, a shortage of anesthesiologists led us to redirect patients requiring after-hours emergency surgeries from the Welland site to our Niagara Falls and St. Catharines sites. The demand for the services of anesthesiologists is increasing at the same time that we are experiencing a national shortage of these healthcare professionals.

Patients will likely see more referrals in emergency situations to minimize the impact on service continuity.

We have made significant progress in clearing backlogs in surgical and diagnostic procedures, which have been repeatedly halted during the pandemic due to provincial guidelines. In both cases, we are operating at 95% of our pre-pandemic volumes.

Patients who require emergency surgical and diagnostic procedures receive this care immediately, however, nearly 5,000 patients are waiting for elective surgeries that have been postponed, primarily cataract and orthopedic procedures. And patients wait 140 days for elective CT scans and 220 days for elective MRIs.

Timely access to elective surgery and diagnostics is a priority, and we are working with the provincial government and our partners to increase capacity.

Other work underway to alleviate staffing pressures and mitigate service impacts include: aggressive recruitment and retention of health care workers; work with family physicians and other primary care partners to improve resources in the community; enhance our university partnerships to train future health care workers in Niagara; and provide additional training for our healthcare professionals to advance their skills.

We are exploring models of care delivery beyond the traditional doctor-nurse centered model.

You’ll hear new terms such as doctors and nursing assistants, roles that are part of a larger team approach to help deal with shortages. This includes adding physician assistants to our current model to expand the care provided by physicians. These highly skilled healthcare professionals will diversify the care team and provide additional support to physicians.

The Niagara South site will be transformational for our region and for the delivery of health care as we know it. Our planning for this state-of-the-art hospital began before COVID-19 arrived and did not consider the impact the pandemic would have on staff.

However, these plans to grow from five sites to three and modernize our hospital care model will help strengthen the expertise of our team, help with retention and recruitment, and help address staffing shortages that are expected to persist over the course of the next decade.

Our staff and physicians are doing their best under difficult circumstances and continue to show the utmost dedication to patients and their families.

Yes, there are significant challenges to overcome.

By working with our community and our partners and thinking in new ways, we will overcome them. I am excited about the future as Niagara Health continues to evolve, transform and grow to provide the safe, quality care Niagara residents deserve.

Lynn Guerriero is President and CEO of Niagara Health’s Hospital System


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