Shortage of nurses leads to reduction of services

Throughout the province, hospitals are experiencing an overall shortage of nurses that has been exacerbated by burnout after 20 months of the pandemic.

Other compounding factors are a younger nursing work force resulting in maternity leaves and, in rural areas, nursing comes with a unique nature.  In addition, there are more nursing opportunities available across the health system that provide a more attractive schedule requiring no evening or weekend work that is needed in a hospital setting.

In a recent release, South Bruce Grey Hospital Centre (SBGHC) says that it has been particularly impacted with significant shortages in health human resources (HHR) for over five years, particularly in nursing.

In 2019, in fact, SBGHC was forced to reduce the hours of operation for the Chesley hospital Emergency Department (ED) and, as of Monday, December 27th (2021), more reductions have been implemented.

Following the recent departures of three Registered Nurse (RN) at SBGHC, the current nursing schedule has been impacted to such an extent that the system is now facing a critical nursing shortage well into the new year.  The new year schedule beginning January 2nd has a large number of unfilled shifts and not enough staff to maintain the current level of service.

Therefore, the Walkerton hospital Emergency Department (ED) is now closed overnight from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. for an indefinite period and patients requiring emergency care during those hours are being asked to go to one of the neighbouring 24/7 EDs, or call 911 to be taken to the nearest 24/7 ED.

In addition, the Inpatient Unit at the Chesley site is to be converted to a 20-bed Alternate Level of Care (ALC) Unit for an indefinite period to allow an “… alternate staffing model to be used with fewer RNs required.” ALC patients are those who no longer require acute care and are awaiting placement in the community through long-term care, group homes or at home with home-care supports. The Chesley site currently has 10 Seniors Centre of Care beds for this patient population.

According to the SBGHC’s release, to achieve a sustainable staffing model in the short-term due to immediate challenges, 12 options for service reductions across the organization were reviewed, and narrowed to four for further consideration.

“The options ranged from complete closures of programs and services, to modification and reductions of service levels. In the evaluation of the options, the Board wanted to ensure that the care provided at the hospital is safe and does not further deteriorate staff. In addition, the Board wanted to ensure that key programs like the Family Birthing Centre, where mothers deliver over 450 babies annually, was protected.”

SBGHC expects that the move to reduced hours in the Walkerton ED has the least impact on patients and, in combination with the designation of the Chesley Inpatient unit, enough staff will be freed up to fill vacant shifts while allowing for a small contingency for patient transfers and sick calls.