‘Expect long wait times’ at Hamilton ERs, says beleaguered hospital network

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Published September 1, 2022 at 4:00 pm

Heading into a holiday weekend, the largest hospital network in Hamilton is giving the public a heads-up about “service impacts” in emergency departments.

The long and short of messaging from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) on Thursday (Sept. 1) was that patients can “expect long wait times” and that it has “healthcare worker shortages.” There have been a string of emergency department closures across the province as the health sector contends with staff shortages, particularly among hospital nurses, who have been quitting at high rates.

The majority-female hospital nurse workforce’s have, in real dollars, had pay decreases for the last three years due to a cap on annual raises passed by the Premier Doug Ford-led Ontario PC Party government since 2019. Opposition parties and nurses’ associations have charged that the governing party is trying to starve the health sector in order to bring in privatization.

In the meantime, HHS is encouraging patience if anyone needs care.

“Service impacts and high wait times continue at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) due to high patient volumes, healthcare worker shortages and a shortage of available community resources to support patients who no longer need our specialized care,” said the thread, which is also posted in full at hamiltonhealthsciences.ca. “HHS also has one of the highest number of patients arriving by ambulance in Ontario and we are working hard to ensure safe care for everyone who needs it.

“Patients and families should expect long wait times in our emergency departments… When a patient arrives, they will be triaged according to the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS).The sickest patients will always be seen first.

“We ask for our community’s patience and understanding as we work to resolve these issues and provide care to everyone.”

Earlier on Thursday, HHS urged Hamiltonians to stay safe over the Labour Day weekend, which is usually seen as the last time to let loose at the end of summer and before the start of the school year at McMaster University and Mohawk College.

“Every day, we’re caring for more patients than our staff have the capacity to care for,” HHS said. “Our emergency departments (EDs) were not built to accommodate current patient volumes. We don’t want to meet you in the ED so please stay safe.”

The hospital network is encouraging people to consider other community healthcare options, unless they are having a medical emergency. Those include one’s family doctor “for health concerns that can wait a day or more,” contact Health Care Connect Ontario to chat with a registered nurse online or over the phone, or going to an urgent care centre (UCC).

Both HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton operate a UCC in Hamilton. The West End clinic (690 Main St. W.) is open from 12 noon to 7 p.m. daily and the Urgent Care — King Campus (2757 King St. E.) is open from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. daily.

Most recently, emergency departments in St. Marys, Ont., and Kemptville, Ont., had to close. Kemptville announced it would only have the ER from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily for close to a week due to staff fatigue and burnout.

Health-care workers have been put under extra strain while seeing and supporting patients over the two-year-plus COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses who are directly employed by the province have had annual raises capped at 1 per cent annually, due to Bill 124 legislation passed by the Ford-led Ontario PCs in 2019. Inflation was 2 per cent at that time, but is now 7.6%, which is a 40-year high, meaning that a nurse who has been in the same position would be earning less in real dollars than they did 3-4 years ago.

Some short-staffed hospitals in Ontario have been farming out staffing to private companies. Agency nurses, so-called, have a much higher wage, but with private companies as a middleman, the cost to the health sector (and taxpayers) is several times larger.

Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, recently stated at a press conference that some hospitals are using “four to seven” times as many agency nurses as they did prior to the pandemic. Hoy added that some agencies bill out at $200 per hour, which is likely more than trice as much as the wage of a hospital nurse.

The Ontario PCs, through Health Minister Sylvia Jones, said Aug. 18 that the province will temporarily cover the costs of applications, examination and registration fees for internationally trained and retired nurses. The governing party also said they will modify a program that will allow nurses and nurse practitioners to be deployed full-time across multiple hospitals.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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