Health care staff shortages create ‘dire’ situation: Anderson

MINTO – Deputy mayor Jean Anderson warned of a “dire emergency” approaching in local health care during remarks at the Aug. 8 town council meeting.

Anderson was responding to correspondence from the Town of Essex calling on the provincial government to “acknowledge the challenges faced by our local emergency response system and take decisive action to resolve the gaps in our healthcare.

“While we recognize that our situation is not unique, we believe that it is essential to draw attention to our persistent code red and code black conditions, which are primarily caused by an insufficient number of hospitals beds, medical personnel and resources,” stated the letter signed by Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy.

In the Essex-Windsor region, a code black means no EMS ambulances are available anywhere in the city or county, while a code red means there are only two ambulances available.

Anderson, a registered nurse, said she worked the previous weekend at Guelph General Hospital and the problem is becoming increasingly severe in this area as well.

“Guelph emerg was totally out of commission. They were down 50% of their staff. Ambulances were lined up,” she told council.

“We don’t have a code black in Guelph, but it means that there’s absolutely no ambulance availability throughout the area. We don’t define that, we limit it to a code red. But it is becoming more and more concerning … Nobody has an answer,” she stated.

Anderson said the basic problem is lack of primary care.

“People can’t get to a family doctor, the walk-in clinic is no longer a walk-in clinic, it’s an appointment-only clinic. And we’re hearing every time we have people coming in there’s just nowhere for them to access care, so they come to the emergency department and it totally overwhelms the services that we have available,” she explained.

Anderson told council “it’s something we need to keep on our radar.

“It’s just it’s an alarming situation. It’s becoming more and more alarming as our towns grow and our health care facilities and doctor availability does not.”

Mayor Dave Turton said the issue has been discussed numerous times at Wellington County council meetings.

“They haven’t been successful in overcoming the problem. I know that it has been worked on. But here we have deputy mayor Anderson, right involved in it, telling us that there’s a problem. I’m not sure where we can go with this. Do we as the Town of Minto send a letter? I’m sure Mr. Ford knows but … does the squeaky wheel get the grease?”

Minto deputy mayor Jean Anderson.

Anderson said council needs to foster the ideas of a nurse practitioner-led clinic and allowing nurse practitioners to roster patients independent of doctors.

“They go into a clinic and they roster under a physician, so it’s two people seeing the same number of people that the physician could see on their own … it doesn’t help at all,” she stated.

Anderson also expressed concern there is only one physician currently operating out of Harriston.

“Once Dr. (Mary Jo) Calarco leaves there will be no direct access for people in Harriston. They will have to … find transportation to Palmerston,” she said.

With taxi rides costing about $25 each way and limited local transportation options available, Anderson said some residents’ ability to access health care could be limited.

“I see a dire emergency coming forward and we need to do something to meet the needs of our community,” Anderson stated.

Turton pointed out the Minto-Mapleton Health Care Professional Recruitment Committee has been working at the problem from the angle of enhanced funding for nurse practitioners, as well as trying to recruit full-time physicians.

Anderson suggested a letter be sent to provincial officials supporting the committee’s efforts and forming a group to work strategically to implement the proposals if accepted.

“It may come down to … that the town has to put some funding into actually providing health care. And I know that’s not a concept that’s popular, but I think it’s becoming reality,” she stated.

Clerk Annilene McRobb pointed out that, in June, council provided a letter of support for the recruitment committee’s funding applications regarding additional nurse practitioners.

“I haven’t heard back on whether those have been successful … is this something that we wanted to look at once we hear back?” she asked.

“Realistically, I don’t believe there’s any need for duplication,” agreed Turton.

With no motions presented for further action, council accepted the Essex letter, along with other correspondence, as information.