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Staffing crunch will impact Hamilton hospitals’ ability to provide service as usual

Staffing crunch will impact Hamilton hospitals’ ability to provide service as usual

Hamilton hospitals are warning that the staffing crunch which has resulted in cancelled surgeries and reduced access is hitting Hamilton as well.

Currently, there are 675 job vacancies between Hamilton’s two hospital organizations, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH). Despite aggressive recruitment efforts by both hospitals, the number of qualified applicants is often not enough to fill vacancies. Staffing shortages are further exacerbated by a rise in the number of staff and physicians in self-isolation due to COVID, and a much higher number of staff off ill than usual. These pressures, along with 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.

Additional compounding factors include:

•             An increased demand for hospital services, driven in part by an increase in the severity of illness among patients seeking care.

•             Factors relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the impacts from surgical reductions that have resulted 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.

o             Further, the early arrival of the 7th wave of COVID-19 in the community is resulting in increased hospital admissions and contributing to further reductions to surgical activities. These reductions are due to hospital outbreaks impacting bed flow and a rise in the number of hospital staff and physicians off work due to COVID exposure or infection.

•             Ongoing community-based challenges, including outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which inhibit hospitals’ ability to discharge ALC (alternate level of care) patients. Like hospitals, community agencies are also facing serious health human resource pressures, which create additional delays across the system.

“Our healthcare workers have shouldered an enormous load through the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so,” says Melissa Farrell, president of SJHH. “This is a complicated process for everyone and will mean temporary service and procedure reductions as required.”

Said 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.”

Unless a person is experiencing a medical emergency, the following resources should be considered before visiting an emergency department:

1.            A family doctor, for health concerns that can wait a day or more.

2.            Health Connect Ontario, to chat with a registered nurse 24/7 via phone or web chat.

3.            An urgent care centre, 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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