• Tue. Dec 5th, 2023

Health Administration

Come One, Come All To Health Administration

ER’s in Walkerton, Chesley to resume 24-hour service

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Walkerton’s emergency department will resume 24-hour coverage May 9 and there’s a plan to expand Chesley’s emergency department to 24-hour service starting June 15.

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In addition, on May 9 the remaining four acute-care beds will be reopened in Chesley hospital, bringing the total to back eight, and it will return to having 10 alternative-care beds for seniors to help them transition back into living independently.

In December, Chesley hospital’s eight-bed inpatient unit was converted to an alternative level of care unit, a move to contend with staffing shortages because those patients needed fewer registered nurses, the hospital corporation said.

The plan for Chesley’s emergency room to increase coverage to 24 hours hinges on the stability of staffing, which will be monitored over the next five weeks, a SBGHC news release said. The hospital’s board will confirm the date on June 1.

“We are confident that we have the staff,” said Michael Barrett, president and CEO of SBGHC, in an interview Wednesday. “We’re able to do it because we have agency nurses that we’ve brought onboard . . .”

The plan protects staff from being “stretched above their committed number of hours” and enables them take vacation, the hospital release said, committing to training, education and recruitment of registered nurses, to gradually move away from the use of agency nurses.

Walkerton and Chesley staffing has been secured beginning May 8 and though Labour Day, SBGHC announced.

A nursing staff shortage reduced Walkerton’s emergency department to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. since Dec. 27. Chesley’s emergency department has been closed overnight since 2019.

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Concerned citizens formed an advocacy group and met with officials in response, while motions were passed by Arran-Elderslie and Brockton councils, backed by Bruce County’s executive committee.

They called for a third-party review, which Brockton completed, and they requested the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to intervene to find an immediate solution for the staffing shortages and “ensure consistent service levels” for local residents.

Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody, whose municipality includes Walkerton, on Wednesday called SBGHC’s announcement “excellent news.”

“There was quite an outcry in the community when it shut down at Christmas and Michael and the senior management team did a good job coming up with a very comprehensive plan to address the shortage.”

However, Peabody said there’s been no extra provincial money provided to pay for the plan so far. Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson on Tuesday promised she’d try to get the extra dollars to pay for the agency nurses, Peabody said. Hospital reserves are covering the cost for now, he said.

“I would certainly call on them as mayor to provide some additional funding for that, to help keep the ER open and ensure some sustainability.”

So far, Ontario Health has not responded to SBGHC’s March request for more money to fund the staffing plan, Barrett confirmed.

Greg McLean, spokesman for the Friends of Walkerton and Chesley Hospitals, said Wednesday that after meetings with hospital administration and local MPPs, the prospect of a return to emergency department hours looked “grim” and so he was “very happy” about the news.

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“We’re obviously going to celebrate this moment but know that it’s ongoing,” he said. “We are going to have some questions about retention and recruitment and what happens after Labour Day. Our group isn’t really going to fade into the background.”

SBGHC has also hired eight casual nurses (a first use of casual nurses for SBGHC) and 11 nursing students, five of whom have written their RN exams or are waiting to write them, and six others are in their second and third year of nursing school.

And now registered midwives will be staffing shifts, hired to back up nurses in the family birthing centre at Walkerton. That’s different than in the past, when midwives would work with individual women through their pregancies, Barrett said.

The hospital corporation decided in 2019 it wouldn’t resume 24-hour ER service in Chesley unless future staffing was certain. That’s changed with this plan, Barrett acknowledged.

“We’re going to reopen. But there is a very real risk that if the provincial health human resource situation deteriorates, we’ll have to — we would consider having a future time-limited reduction again.”

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