There are more vacant positions for nurses than nurses working at one GTA emergency room, according to an internal report obtained by CTV News Investigates — a sign of how dire staff shortages are “deteriorating” a medical system already on edge.
A consultants report for Lakeridge Health calls the situation at its Oshawa hospital a “crisis” as it lays out how a 55 per cent vacancy rate is one of several factors contributing to large wait times for patients.
“The Emergency Department is in crisis and struggling with throughput, staffing, low morale, misaligned incentives, and EMS offloads,” the report says.
“These challenges are interrelated and are compounded and in part caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent labour shortages,” it says.
Lakeridge’s Chief of Emergency, Dr. Michael Howlett, agreed that what is happening is a “crisis” — one reason he said the hospital network reached out for outside help.
“Because it’s such a crisis we need to find our solutions very quickly,” Dr. Howlett said.
“Normally we would internally try to work on solutions and try to improve our efficiencies ourselves, but realistically the government is not coming in on a stallion to fix everything for us, so we have to internally get better at what we do to maintain our level of service.”
He said that the hospital is far from the only one feeling the shortage of nurses who, because of stress and overwork, are choosing to retire or leave at faster rates than they can be hired or trained.
“COVID-19 has made this more obvious but it’s not the cause. It’s the tip of a very large iceberg, and this fall we’re seeing an increased number of children with viral illnesses. This is going to create more stress in our system and we are not really prepared,” he said.
The report is by Dr. Chris Flanders of US-based X32 Healthcare and is based on a site visit on Sept 26. X32 did not return an e-mailed request for comment.
It says the hospital’s goal of time between arrival and meeting a doctor is 30 minutes, but they are seeing 125 minutes on average — more than four times as long.
“This is a situation that is deteriorating and it appears at Lakeridge to be deteriorating rapidly,” said Mike Hurley, the regional vice-president of the Canadian University of Public Employees, which represents some hospital workers.
“It’s extremely troubling that there’s a majority of vacancies. More vacancies for nurses than there are nurses,” he said.
On Monday, Lakeridge’s Oshawa location reported a wait time of one hour. The wait time of other hospitals in the Lakeridge network were much higher: five hours in Ajax-Pickering and Port Perry.
Ontario’s unions have claimed there needs to be tens of thousands of workers hired to deal with shortages across the system prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, more nurses are leaving, retiring, or going south of the border. A lack of staff is one reason why some emergency wards and rooms have temporarily closed.
“Lakeridge is bad. Really bad,” Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition, said. “But that is indicative of what’s happening in large hospitals all across Ontario. We’ve never seen anything like it. It is really serious,” she said.
Ontario’s government has said that it plans to hire 6,000 workers, provide incentives to stay, and train internationally qualified nurses.