By Sue Tiffin
Those seeking medical attention are being asked to ensure their need is serious before visiting a local emergency department.
On Thursday afternoon prior to the busy holiday weekend, Haliburton Highlands Health Services launched a public awareness campaign reminding the public of the potential for physician and nurse shortages and emergency department closures at Minden and Haliburton hospitals. HHHS has been warning the public since November of staffing shortages caused by typical staffing challenges as well as factors influenced by the pandemic that could result in temporary hospital closures.
The “Stop – Check – Go” campaign asks that those in need of serious medical attention including for chest pain, severe blood loss, head injury or shortness of breath should call 911, while those with non-life-threatening issues should pause and assess their injury prior to using the emergency department.
“If it’s not life-threatening you should: ‘Stop’ and see if self-care (for a twisted ankle, sunburn, minor scrapes or seasonal allergies) or a call to their doctor (for chronic symptoms, back pain or stomach aches can address your needs,” reads the June 30 press release. “‘Check’ to make sure the emergency department you plan to visit is open, by calling HHHS at 705-457-1392, extension 2555, visiting hhhs.ca or visiting HHHS Facebook or Twitter pages. If your need is urgent, you can then ‘Go’ to the emergency department nearest you.”
Carolyn Plummer, HHHS CEO and president, told the Times the public awareness campaign was launched as a result of the “precarious situation” HHHS continues to deal with.
“Although we have worked extremely hard to ensure we have adequate staffing for the start of a busy summer, and we have staffing in place right now for the weekend, we continue to be in a precarious position with both nursing and physician shifts,” Plummer said on June 30. “We are working day and night to cover every shift through the summer, and we are grateful for our team members who keep stepping up to fill in gaps in the schedule when they happen.”
Plummer said that should a temporary emergency department closure occur, “paramedics will take patients in need of emergency medical attention to the nearest emergency department, which could be in the communities of Lindsay, Bracebridge, Bancroft, Peterborough, or Huntsville.”
Should a temporary closure occur, Plummer said a robust communications plan is in place to share information broadly via the HHHS dedicated extension (705-457-1392 ext. 2555), website, and social media channels, through local media and community partners, and through roadside signage and posters on site.
Over the weekend, Perth and Smith Falls District Hospital emergency department was closed until this upcoming Thursday due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with doctors there telling media outlets of an ongoing staff shortage. In Clinton, the emergency department closed from July 1 to 5, also due to physician and nurse shortages. Children’s hospitals including Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and SickKids are reporting record high occupancy and wait times. Emergency departments in other provinces including Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba are also experiencing temporary closures as a result of staffing shortages and surging patient loads.
A survey by Statistics Canada conducted during the fourth wave of the pandemic last fall and released in June reported 95 per cent of health workers were feeling job stress or mental health concerns as a result of pandemic-related extended work hours, decreased vacation time, changes to the method of care delivery, and burnout.