We understand people are upset about the upcoming reduction of hours at our Urgent Care Centres (UCCs) in Fort Erie and Port Colborne. It was not an easy decision but it is necessary to ensure we can continue to provide around-the-clock emergency care to all Niagara residents.
We simply do not have enough emergency medicine doctors to adequately operate our three Emergency Departments (EDs) and UCCs. This is a health human resources issue (not a funding issue) that is impacting not just Niagara but the entire province and country.
Frankly, using our scarce, highly specialized resources to staff UCCs overnight is not efficient or effective. The UCCs see an average of one patient every three hours overnight but require a full staff compliment to operate. The top five conditions seen by our UCCs are: upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, ear infections, sore throats and cut fingers. These are conditions that should be treated at a doctor's office or can now be treated by a pharmacist with their expanded scope.
Our UCCs are not Emergency Departments and have not been since 2009. EDs provide 24-hour access to care for people experiencing trauma, serious injury or serious illness. All individuals requiring emergency care should go directly to one of our EDs in Welland, Niagara Falls or St. Catharines or call 9-1-1. It is not safe to go to UCCs as the staff there are not equipped to deal with emergencies. When someone goes to a UCC needing emergency care, our staff calls 9-1-1 to transfer the patient to one of our EDs.
Again, this was not a decision taken lightly. We explored all options with our medical team, and this was the absolute least impactful way to address our emergency-medicine physician shortage. As well, the decision was made with the advice of our Emergency Department physician leadership team. We continue to offer financial incentives to physicians to take on more shifts but with little uptake. This decision was made using data, which included looking at past and present patient volumes. This situation will be continuously monitored, and plans will be developed to mitigate any potential impacts on EDs.
One way to address this issue is to ensure every Canadian has access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner. Niagara Health continues to work with community partners and government to address the shortage of physicians and comprehensive primary care in Niagara. While primary care is not traditionally the domain of hospital organizations, we are committed to ensuring Niagara residents have access to appropriate care when they need it. As a healthcare provider organization, we are particularly interested in publicly funded solutions that address health human resources, access to care (including comprehensive primary care), and the sustainability of the system.