This message is from Lynn Guerriero, President and CEO and Dr. Johan Viljoen, Chief of Staff, and Executive Vice President, Medical Affairs.
Niagara Health is experiencing a serious shortage of healthcare workers, on a daily basis, across our five sites and in all areas of the hospital. Our staff and physicians are working full out to maintain service levels – including taking extra shifts and postponing their scheduled vacations and the regular time off they need to rest and recover after maintaining a gruelling pace since the pandemic began.
There is no fast fix, no one answer to address the cause, effect or solution to the challenges that have emerged from, or been exacerbated by, the pandemic. These challenges are being felt across the broader healthcare system – in hospitals, home and community care, long-term care and primary care. We are seeing an increased demand for hospital services while at the same time experiencing a high number of vacancies across the hospital, a rising number of COVID-19 outbreaks and a high number of staff and physicians off due to illness (both COVID and non-COVID related).
Like other Ontario hospitals, we are in the position of having to consider how we can align our services to our available staffing levels. We are looking at all options to prioritize the delivery of safe, quality care for patients and families and the health and wellness of our workforce.
Hospital activity and Emergency Department wait times
Staffing pressures are being felt in all of our programs and are most obvious to the public in our Emergency Departments (ED).
During the month of July, most ED patients waited 4.6 hours to see a physician, while most Urgent Care Centre (UCC) patients waited 2.8 hours to see a physician. Real-time ED and UCC wait times are posted on our website and in our ED and UCC waiting rooms. The numbers of patients being treated and waiting for care are also posted and can assist patients and families in making informed decisions about their care. Our teams are here to care for those most in need of emergency and urgent care, however, patients and families will continue to experience longer wait times in our EDs and UCCs given the significant staffing pressures and increased demand for care.
Working on solutions
We are working closely with the provincial government, hospitals in our Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Burlington region, and local partners on solutions.
One of our immediate goals at Niagara Health is to stabilize our workforce by offering tangible support where we can by creating opportunities for rest and recovery and enhancing our wellness programming. We have a number of measures underway to alleviate staffing pressures and mitigate service impacts. These include:
- Aggressive recruitment and retention of healthcare workers, which is taking place amid a national shortage of trained professionals;
- Temporary staffing and shift reductions in some units in urgent staffing situations to minimize the impact on service continuity;
- Supplementing nursing staff in the EDs with other members of our team so that nurses can dedicate themselves to direct patient care;
- Exploring care delivery models beyond the traditional physician-and-nurse-centric model to a broader team approach using the full skillsets of all professional disciplines;
- Working with family physicians and other primary care partners to enhance resources in the community to serve residents close to home and place an increased focus on preventative care;
- Working with academic partners to enhance opportunities for education and training to attract and retain future healthcare workers in Niagara.
South Niagara Site
The healthcare system in Niagara is already undergoing a transformation to provide residents across our region with more timely access to quality healthcare. A key component of this transformation is the future South Niagara Site to be located in Niagara Falls.
Our planning for the South Niagara Site began before the arrival of COVID-19 and did not account for the impact the pandemic would have on our staffing. However, reducing our physical footprint to three sites will help to strengthen our team’s expertise and contribute to solving the staffing shortages that are expected to last into the next decade. Healthcare workers want to work in modern facilities, with collaborative teams that deliver care using the latest medical advances, technologies and equipment, and the South Niagara Site is proving to be a recruitment driver for Niagara Health.
How the public can help
We are asking for understanding and patience as we work through the challenges facing Niagara Health. Our staff and physicians are doing the best they can, and we are beyond grateful to them for their dedication and professionalism over the last two and half years.
Please use the healthcare system wisely. Members of the public can help by visiting the ED for medical emergencies only. For all other health concerns, we are asking that they:
- Contact their primary care provider;
- Call Health Connect Ontario to chat with a registered nurse 24/7 via phone or web chat;
- Visit our UCCs in Fort Erie or Port Colborne;
- Make a virtual appointment for urgent care (Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by visiting UrgentCareOntario.ca).
Remember to screen for COVID-19 prior to visiting the hospital and wear a mask at all times while inside our buildings. This will help us to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 and protect patients and their families and staff and physicians.
Vaccination remains our best defence against COVID-19, and with an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 in our care, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated with available boosters to stay safe and well. Vaccination provides protection against serious illness and hospitalization.