PETERBOROUGH, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Unless the Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) hires 600 staff (yearly), problems with spiking emergency room wait times and unprecedented staffing shortages will deepen as the population grows and ages, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) at a media conference in Peterborough today.
CUPE based its call for the 600 new hospital staff hires at PRHC, on available government and hospital data. The average length of ER wait time at PRHC is currently 27.5 hours, significantly higher than the provincial average of 20.7 hours. Across Ontario, the wait time to be seen in emergency has consistently spiked since the Doug Ford PC’s have been in government, with a 47 per cent increase in the last year alone. In Peterborough, ER wait times increased 87 per cent over the past 12 months.
This summer, the Peterborough hospital experienced several staffing shortages and high patient volumes, while several dozen hospitals across Ontario closed emergency rooms and other units. These closures will “only intensify” under the current health human resource strategy of the PC provincial government, said Dave Verch, a registered practical nurse (RPN) and first vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).
Verch added that “so far, the provincial government has not shown the urgency or commitment to public health care required to develop a hospital workforce retention plan to stabilize capacity in our public hospitals. That would require them to improve working conditions in order to stop the bleeding of staff. This includes increasing wages, full-time employment and lowering workloads. Then the number of resignations would go down and hospitals would not have to recruit so many new staff to deal with the unprecedented turnover rates and increased needs of an ageing and growing population.”
Over 22 per cent of Peterborough County’s population is 65 (years) and over. Ontario-wide, the comparable figure for the 65+ demographic is 18.5 per cent. “Already Peterborough has a higher number of seniors and they all deserve appropriate care including access to hospital services,” Verch said.
Long emergency room wait-times result in “offload delays” for paramedics, who are unable to safely transfer patients to the care of hospital staff. Offload delays combined with understaffing at paramedic services and rising call volumes are subsequently causing critical ambulances shortages.
Across Ontario, demand for paramedic services has increased by 40 per cent over the past decade due to pressures of an underfunded health system and an ageing population. The problem is compounded by understaffing of paramedic services relative to demand. In Peterborough County, call volumes increased by 12.8 per cent in 2021, doubling the annual average of 6.3 per cent.
“The Ontario provincial government must immediately invest in improving staffing levels and working conditions at hospitals and paramedic services. We are seeing an exponential increase in demand for paramedicine, without a corresponding increase in the resources we need. The heavier workloads are causing high rates of injuries and burnout, exacerbating the staffing crisis. The present situation is unsustainable – we need action right now,” says Natalie Waters, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 4911, the union that represents Peterborough County paramedics.
To keep hospital emergency rooms and other units from closing and to decrease the time paramedics spend offloading patients at hospitals, overall, across Ontario, 46,000 more hospital staff must be hired just to deal with a 14.95% hospital staff turnover rate, the very high number of hospital job vacancies, the impacts of COVID and long COVID, and the increased needs of an aging and growing population.