Toronto Western Hospital narrowly avoids ER shutdown amid staffing shortages

Toronto Western Hospital came close to shutting down its emergency department this weekend due to severe staffing shortages.

The hospital, which is part of the University Health Network (UHN) managed to cover its staffing needs and avoid an ER shutdown because of help from “extenders,” which include medical students and postgraduate residents to fill the roles of registered nurses, UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard said in a statement to CBC News.

“UHN was in a very tight situation for staffing over the weekend because of significantly higher numbers of patients presenting to the [emergency department,] sicker patients, staffing shortages, staff illness, and well-deserved and needed vacation scheduling,” the statement from Howard read.

The network asked staff to admit patients from the emergency department as quickly as possible to avoid a crunch. It helped ease pressure on the hospital’s emergency department, narrowly avoiding a closure, according to the statement.

Howard said the most recent wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected staffing in all health-care organizations.

“Health care professionals continue to rise to the challenge but it has been a very long and hard grind and people are tired,” she said.

UHN also suggested longer-term solutions which include international recruitment, training and deployment of clinical supports and digital health solutions.

But Cathryn Hoy, provincial president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, said the use of extenders isn’t a sustainable answer.

“It’s whoever they can get to try and get all hands on deck,” Hoy said. “But at the end of the day, they’re not registered nurses.”

Hoy told CBC News she’s not surprised at the staffing shortage.

“We’ve been telling the province for a year, year and a half that we’re experiencing severe nursing and health care shortages,” she said.

“I don’t know how much more we need to say or do, the proof is there.”

Davenport NDP MPP Marit Stiles took to Twitter asking for health minister Sylvia Jones to respond to UHN’s situation after she received emails from Toronto Western staff about the possible closure of the emergency department.

“To me it’s an indication that the system is on the cusp of really collapsing,” Stiles said. “I’d like to see the new minister of health Sylvia Jones come out and address this publicly.”

CBC News reached out to the provincial Ministry of Health for a comment from Jones, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.


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