A GTA intensive-care unit has been forced to temporarily close and relocate patients, as the Ontario health-care system struggles with staff shortages and fallout from the pandemic.
Lakeridge Health, which has multiple hospital locations east of Toronto, said in a statement Thursday that the ICU at Bowmanville Hospital is closing and is relocating critical-care services to its Ajax Pickering and Oshawa hospitals.
The hospital network pointed to staffing concerns as the reason.
“Lakeridge Health, like many Ontario hospitals, continues to operate amidst a significant staff shortage,” it said.
While Bowmanville Hospital has a small critical-care unit of five private rooms and one isolation room, its closure highlights the continuing challenges Ontario’s hospitals are enduring due to staffing shortages.
In the release, Lakeridge Health said it was a “difficult decision” to temporarily relocate the ICU and that it recognizes “the impact of this temporary relocation on patients and their families.”
“This decision was not made lightly,” and it is an “extremely challenging time,” it added. It also said the situation is continuing to be assessed and the goal is to bring back critical-care services when staffing stabilizes and when it is “safe to do so.”
On Thursday, unions representing 70,000 hospital workers renewed calls for the province to tackle staffing shortages that have contributed to closures of emergency rooms.
A letter sent from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and SEIU Healthcare to Premier Doug Ford calls on the province to repeal Bill 124, which was introduced in 2019 and limits wage increases for public sector contracts to one per cent a year.
The unions also urged the government to ban nursing agency staff as they are paid two to three times more than hospital workers. They also said an “aggressive plan” is needed to bring back thousands of nurses and other health-care providers back to the beleaguered sector.
Hospitals across the province are reporting closures and staffing shortages that cannot keep up with the demand for care.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton told the Star that the hospital is continuing to face staffing shortages, the causes of which include fatigue, burnout, COVID exposure and difficulty recruiting more health-care workers.
It has led the hospital to pause admission to 12 beds at the Harbour East 1 at West Fifth section of the hospital that services the mental health of seniors who are recovering from psychiatric disease.
“We do not make these decisions lightly,” it said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to our health care workers who have shouldered an enormous load through the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so,” it added.
The hospital also said that it needs to “align service capacity and beds to staffing levels where possible to support quality patient care and the wellness of our health-care workers. This is a complicated process for everyone and means temporary service and procedure reductions as required.”
Kingston General Hospital has also had to introduce closures within its emergency department. The hospital told the Star that it has “intermittently closed a 10-bed section of our Emergency Department that traditionally is used to support patients with less urgent needs, or patients who are waiting to be admitted to another unit within the hospital.”
“The closures of this section are the result of the same staffing shortages that are currently impacting all hospitals across the country,” it said. The closures are lasting hours, and not days, it added.
When that section of the emergency department is closed, staffing is consolidated to remaining sections of the department to provide care to patients with “more acute needs,” it said. Patients admitted to emergency are moved to other areas of the hospital as much as possible to manage staffing shortages.
The hospital also said they encourage community members with “less acute conditions” to consider alternatives to emergency departments, including walk-in clinics or family health teams.
“Like many other health-care providers, we are constantly making adjustments to support our staff, physicians and patients during this ongoing health human resource shortage,” it said.
With files from The Canadian Press
Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: email@example.com
May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11