Brockton council concerned about local ER closures

BROCKTON – Brockton council expressed concern about recent emergency room closures in the area.

An update from South Bruce Grey Health Centre was on the Sept. 20 council agenda. The report stated that while 24-hour service at the Walkerton and Chesley sites has resumed, the staffing situation is still considered “fragile” even with the addition of agency nurses. The result is periodic ER closures due to shortages of RNs and RPNs continues.

It isn’t only affecting hospitals in the local area – larger urban hospitals have had ER closures for the same reason.

The Walkerton ER was closed Friday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m. to Saturday, Sept. 17, at 7 a.m., and Saturday, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m. to Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 a.m.

Kincardine was closed from 5 p.m. Sept. 23 to 7 a.m. Sept. 24, due to a critical shortage of nurses.

Full closure of the Chesley ER took place from 5 p.m. on Sept. 22 to 7 a.m. on Sept. 27. The Chesley ER was also closed from 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 to Monday, Sept. 19 at 7 a.m. This was in addition to the resumption of overnight ER closures for the fall, effective Sept. 9. The ER will be closed every night from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. for an indefinite period.

In all cases, people in need of emergency medical care were directed to the next nearest hospital.

When full 24-hour ER service at Chesley resumed June 15, the public had been warned of the danger of additional closures.

Michael Barrett, hospital CEO, said in a press release, “Although our team of incredible nurses has made a significant effort to try and fill as many vacant shifts as possible, and our leaders have dedicated a large majority of their time to stabilizing nursing staff levels within our organization, including working some shifts. The reality is that there just are not enough nurses in the system to continue providing the level of service that has been provided to date. This is certainly not the decision we wanted to make, but we will only operate if we can provide safe care to the patients we serve.”

Coun. Dean Leifso commented on the situation during the council meeting.

“The ER is closed again … Chesley’s is back to a permanent situation,” he said.

Leifso commented that he needs more information about what’s happening, than what was included in the report.

Coun. Steve Adams agreed, saying he wants to see numbers. He noted the hospital update in the agenda package was “form letter-ish.”

Adams went on to say that “Hanover has picked up the lion’s share when our ERs are closed.” He, too, said he’d like more information.

Mayor Chris Peabody continues to pressure the province to do something about agency nurses. While the use of agency nurses allowed SBGHC and other health-care facilities to cover gaps in their schedules, it’s part of a larger picture that’s disturbing. Nurses are quitting their hospital jobs, where Bill 124 holds them to a one per cent wage increase cap, for higher paid positions with nursing agencies. He told council the situation has cost SBGHC $1.9 million, and has cost the county $1.2 million (for the county’s long-term care homes).

“Agencies are making big money,” Peabody said, creating an unfunded and unsustainable drain in hospital finances that he called “negligence on the part of the province.”

“The costs are horrific,” he added, stating the result will be higher taxes for municipal ratepayers.

Coun. James Lang commented that what was supposed to be “a temporary thing, is now the new normal.”

Coun. Kym Hutcheon said one reason nurses are quitting their hospital jobs and moving to agencies is the opportunity to pick their own schedules.

The mayor speculated on what would happen if other essential people, like police, went to work for private security companies so they could choose their own schedules.

CAO Sonya Watson said Barrett would be pleased to come back to council to answer questions from council.

What Deputy Mayor Dan Gieruszak wants to know is “what he’s doing that’s different – creative, innovative and more competitive” in order to recruit and retain staff.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times