Nursing shortage to blame for reduced hours: CEO

Andrew Williams, Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance CEO and president, spoke to an information night on Nov. 19 to help explain why emergency room hours at the Clinton Public Hospital are being reduced. Daniel Caudle

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Over 120 people jammed into Libro Hall at the Central Huron Community Complex, some of them expressing anger and others looking for answers as to why the emergency department at Clinton Public Hospital will be cutting its hours in half.

Effective Dec. 2, the department will be closed to the public from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

It’s not known when the department will be restored to a 24-hour schedule.

Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance CEO and president Andrew Williams told the crowd that hours have been cut because of a registered nurse shortage and the inability to find qualified staff.

“This is not a layoff, nor the first step for the closure of the Clinton hospital, this is simply a safety decision and the inability to recruit qualified staff members,” said Williams.

The Nov. 19 information meeting was called after the hospital announced that its emergency department hours would be substantially reduced beginning in early December.

Most of the meeting was taken up by a question-and-answer period.

Williams said hospital officials have been working to find replacements but had not received an application from a viable application before an Oct. 28 deadline.

He noted that statistics provided by the Healthcare Alliance show the number of patients requiring ER services significantly drops at 8 p.m. and does not increase until the following morning at eight o’clock.

Of the roughly 12,000 visits the Clinton Public Hospital sees every year, nearly 85 per cent are during the day, with the other 15 per cent overnight, said Williams.

Anne Campbell, vice-president of partnerships and patient experience for the Healthcare Alliance, is also in charge of Clinton’s nursing recruitment efforts. She said when a nurse leaves Clinton she conducts an exit interview.

“We listed over 18 job postings and the reality is that nurses are leaving the area to work in London or Stratford because they want to work in an area that is busier where they have the opportunity to use the skills the acquired,” she said.

Clinton’s problem is not isolated, Campbell said. In September, the South Bruce Grey Health Centre at Chesley implemented a similar closure and also cited a lack of nursing staff.

Similarly, in 2009 the Seaforth Hospital’s ER room issued an overnight closure notice due to a staffing issue. That remained in effect for two years.

“From 2009 to 2011 when the Seaforth Hospital’s ER was closed we had no patients who faced a negative outcome due to the closure, they were able to get to the next closest hospital,” said Campbell.

During the presentation, Healthcare Alliance staff noted that the need for staff extends far beyond Clinton and has become a pressing reality for rural hospitals.

Williams said there are 19 hospitals in the Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce region, many very close to facing the same situation as in Clinton.

During the local closure residents are advised to call EMS as they normally would if there is an urgent medical problem, as those services are not effected.

According to the current job posting listed on the Healthcare Alliance’s hiring portal, a job posting was issued for a notice of vacancy which requires three registered nurses for regular part-time to begin as soon as possible. Similar job posting were issued seeking qualified registered nurses for multiple positions at the Stratford and St. Mary’s hospitals.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association represents the province’s 60,000 nurses, and establishes the hourly wage rate by negotiated agreement. Due to the contracts, the Healthcare Alliance in unable to offer nurses higher salaries to relocate to the Clinton area.