Ontario hospitals, endless emergency. NDP and Liberals attack Ford government

TORONTO – Many will remember the summer wave of temporary closures of emergency rooms: well, in the smallest and most rural communities of Ontario, the emergency is never over. And while understaffing led hospitals to close their emergency departments for hours or days during the summer of 2022, the closures didn’t really stop at the end of the summer season. 

South Bruce Gray Health Center had overnight emergency room closures at all four of its sites during the fall and had to completely close the Chesley emergency room for two months. The hospital has been suffering from a chronic shortage of nurses since before the pandemic, and the facility still only operates Monday through Friday during the day.

More temporary closures have been reported in Ontario over the winter and now, just as the summer season approaches, there have been several closures in recent days, including a recent forty-eight hour closure in Thessalon, Northern Ontario. Thessalon was without a general practitioner for about two years, helping to increase emergency room volumes: it relied on doctors from other communities to serve the hospital on an interim basis.

In Minden, the hospital has decided to permanently close its local emergency room effective June 1 due to staff shortages. There were no closures here last summer, but Carolyn Plummer, president and chief executive officer of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, said – as CP24 reports – the current situation “is worse than last year” due to staff shortages.

Like the Haliburton Highlands facilities and many other hospitals across the province, Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital has had to rely on nursing agencies to raise staffing levels – this has left the Eastern Ontario hospital with a stable staff but cost a net $2.8 million last year alone, said chairman and chief executive officer Michael Cohen. “It’s very expensive, but it’s the price we have to pay to keep services open,” he said.

Anthony Dale, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Hospital Association, points out that “the rates charged by some nursing agencies have increased. They are taking advantage of the situation. But we are hopeful because in the last year many new programs have begun to recruit, retain, incentivize health professionals – especially nurses – to consider practicing in rural areas and remote communities”.

Meanwhile, however, the emergency continues. In recent days, the hospital network’s emergency room in Seaforth had to close overnight, then again a week later, and again two days later, while the emergency room at St. Marys Memorial Hospital had to close overnight last weekend.

And today the NDP intervened on the issue, harshly attacking Prime Minister Doug Ford for opening up healthcare to private individuals: “What do we get when Privatization Profiteering dictates health care planning? Public funds funnelled into private clinics, leaving us with a starved health care system pushing workers out. Profit-first health care fails communities ” tweeted the NDP, reiterating the concept affirmed by Stiles who, during the question period in Queen’s Park, highlighted the serious difficulties that some hospitals of the province are experiencing precisely because of personnel shortages.

A few days ago, Liberal MPP Stephanie Bowman intervened on the matter, tweeting a photo of Minden hospital and writing: “We need transparency from this Conservative government on the decision to close down #Minden Hospital. This closure will hurt residents & visitors. Is this Conservative government listening?”.

In the pic above, MPP Stephanie Bowman in front of the Minden hospital where the emergency room will be closed from 1 June (photo from Twitter – @stephaniebowman)