WELLINGTON COUNTY – Rural Wellington hospitals and primary care practices are busier than ever.
Dr. Patrick Otto, chief of staff for Groves Memorial Community Hospital, and Dr. Chris Rowley, chief of staff for North Wellington Health Care, help to answer some commonly asked questions as it relates to the current state of our local health care system.
Why can there be a long wait to see a physician in the emergency department?
Hospitals across Ontario are seeing higher than normal Emergency Department (ED) volumes which cause longer wait times. In Waterloo-Wellington there are several reasons for this:
- an increase in our rural Wellington population creates a higher demand for health care services;
- an increase in patients without a local family doctor causes some patients to seek care in the ED;
- the rising baby boomer population results in more complex health issues and requires more health care staff time and services;
- as ED wait times in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo become longer, patients travel to our rural Wellington hospitals, which increases our volumes and duration of time to be seen; and
- hospitals across the region are, in general, operating over capacity meaning they do not have enough beds for the patients that need to be admitted. If there is a patient in the ED requiring admission to the hospital, and there are no beds, we must hold the patient in ED until a bed becomes available. This in turn causes a delay in a new ED patient being seen.
Why is my family doctor so busy?
Family physicians working in our rural communities wear many hats. Time is divided up caring for patients in their office, the hospital, long-term care facilities, and at times the patient’s home.
Hospital work involves taking care of admitted patients. Many of our physicians work on-call in the hospital’s emergency, obstetrical, anaesthesia, and/or oncology departments.
Hospital on-call shifts can range from 12 to 24 hours in duration. All making for busy days and nights. We are also short physicians in our communities as our population grows and as physicians retire or leave.
This causes our current physicians to work extra shifts at the hospital to cover the vacancies.
Why is there a health care worker shortage right now?
Several key factors contribute to the staff shortages, including an aging health workforce, and high competition for skilled labour.
Health care workers are just like the rest of us and experience illness, including COVID-19, and mental health issues that take them away from work.
Hospitals in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo are all competing for the same health care recruits. Long hours with high workloads are causing some to rethink their careers.
Battling COVID-19 has also caused burnout in many staff. Retaining staff has become just as important as recruiting new staff.
What service impacts could the staff shortage cause?
If there are not enough workers to safely provide health care services there could be sporadic, short-term closures. This could include EDs.
What if I cannot get a timely appointment with my family doctor?
If you are not able to get an appointment with your family physician, and your situation is not a medical emergency, you could choose a different health care option.
- Telehealth Ontario, free and confidential and available 24/7. Phone: 1-866-797-0000 or TTY: 1-866-797-0007;
- After Hours Walk-in Clinic – Walmart (Fergus) 1-519-787-2940; and
- Child/Youth Virtual Care: www.urgentcareontario.ca.
If you require mental health support:
– Here 24/7 1-844-437-4246 or TTY: 877-688-550
For a full list of Waterloo-Wellington health care resources, visit www.heathline.ca.
How can I help our health care workers?
There is no easy solution to this problem. We can all help to support one another while we are going through this challenging period.
Throughout the pandemic, the support and gratitude for health care providers have diminished and, in many cases, been replaced by increasing aggression.
Refusals to wear masks, frustration with visitor policies and longer wait times are fueling some of this frustration. Frontline staff feels the effects of bearing the brunt of people’s anger.
This type of behaviour is not tolerated. All our healthcare staff are doing their best to meet the needs of each patient. Being civil and being kind to one another will make for a much better experience for all.
Be an advocate for your community hospital – if you happen to know someone who is about to graduate as a health care worker and is looking for a job, encourage them to apply to one of our rural hospitals. From free parking to tuition grants, close-knit staff, and easy commutes – there are many benefits to working in our rural hospitals. Check out our recruitment website at www.whcrecruit.com.
Submitted by Wellington Health Care Alliance