KENORA, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Unless hospitals in northwestern Ontario hire 150 more staff (yearly), problems with spiking emergency room wait times and unprecedented staffing shortages will deepen as the population ages, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) at a media conference in Kenora today.
CUPE based its call for the 150 new hospital staff hires in northwestern Ontario, on available government and hospital data. The average length of ER wait time at Lake of the Woods hospital in Kenora increased 14.6 per cent between July 2021 and July 2022, based on the latest available data. Across Ontario, the wait time to be seen in emergency has consistently spiked since the Doug Ford PC’s have been in government. Ontario ER wait times have increased 47 per cent in the last year alone.
This summer, the Lake of the Woods hospital experienced several staffing shortages and high patient volumes, while several dozen hospitals across Ontario including the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital 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.”
Long ER wait-times result in “offload delays” for paramedics, who are unable to safely transfer patients to the care of hospital staff and get back on the road to respond to other 911 calls. For Kenora District paramedics, 911 call volumes have been rising acutely without a corresponding increase in staffing levels.
Across Ontario, demand for paramedic services has increased on average by four per cent between 2010 and 2019. In Kenora District, in 2021 alone call volumes increased by almost 17 per cent.
“Our staffing levels are not keeping up with demand, which undermines patient care and causes unsustainable workloads. We routinely work 16-hour shifts and miss breaks to ensure community safety and emergency coverage,” said Derek Hamilton, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 5911.
Hamilton said that the stressful working conditions for paramedics have created a major retention and recruitment problem and called on the “provincial government to address that through a comprehensive staffing strategy for paramedics in northern Ontario.”
While paramedics require appropriate staffing levels immediately, Hamilton urged all levels of government to improve social determinants of health as a long-term strategy. He said the high call volumes across Kenora District stem from social problems that must be tackled through investments in affordable housing, mental health and addictions services, family doctors, home care and community programs.
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 per cent 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.
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications
Zaid Noorsumar, CUPE Communications