High wait times ‘ongoing reality’ for Hamilton hospitals due to ‘record-high’ staffing shortages

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Published July 21, 2022 at 3:07 pm

High wait times 'ongoing reality' for Hamilton hospitals due to 'record-high' staffing shortages

Record-high staffing shortages and the seventh wave of COVID-19 arriving earlier than expected will likely lead to further service impacts and high wait times across all hospitals in Hamilton.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) issued a joint statement Wednesday.

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“Currently, there are 675 job vacancies between Hamilton’s two hospital organizations,” the statement reads. “Despite aggressive recruitment efforts by both hospitals, the number of qualified applicants is often not enough to fill vacancies.”

The shortage is due in large part to the rise in the number of staff and physicians in self-isolation due to COVID.

“These pressures, along with the high demand for services, are affecting all areas of hospital operations and threatening service continuity, including in community programs, inpatient and outpatient care, mental health, pediatrics, and regional programs,” the statement reads.

The increased demand for hospital services, driven partly by an increase in the severity of illness among patients seeking care, is also playing a factor.

“Our healthcare workers have shouldered an enormous load through the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so,” says Melissa Farrell, president of SJHH. “We are profoundly grateful and recognize a need to align service capacity to staffing levels where possible to support quality patient care and the wellness of our healthcare workers. This is a complicated process for everyone and will mean temporary service and procedure reductions as required.”

There are also byproduct challenges relating to the COVID pandemic, including the impacts of surgical reductions resulting in patients waiting longer for surgery. Currently, there is a backlog of over 12,000 surgical cases (pediatric and adult) between HHS and SJHH, and it is not yet known when pre-pandemic surgical levels can be resumed, according to the health care organizations.

Community agencies also face serious health human resource pressures, which create additional delays across the system.

“Every day, we’re caring for more patients than our staff can care for,” says Sharon Pierson, executive vice president, clinical operations and chief operating officer at HHS. “Hamilton’s health-care system, like all hospitals in the province, is in a very precarious position. Our ability to push onward is made possible by our people’s valiant commitment to our patients, and for their sake, we’re doing all we can do to bring some relief to our highly pressured situation.”

The organizations say individuals should look at other health care options in the community, including family doctors, Health Connect Ontario, to chat with a registered nurse 24/7 via phone or web chat, and urgent care centres for health concerns that are not life-threatening but can’t wait for a doctor’s appointment.

Both HHS and SJHH operate a UCC in the city.

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