/HHHS staffing stable, but still a ‘significant challenge’

HHHS staffing stable, but still a ‘significant challenge’

By Sue Tiffin

While staffing levels at Haliburton Highlands Health Services have remained stable enough that emergency departments have avoided closure, HHHS CEO and president Carolyn Plummer said staffing remains a “significant challenge.”  

After Christmas, eight per cent of Haliburton Highlands Health Services staff had to isolate as a result of COVID-19 measures and public health and Ministry of Health guidance.

“As the spread of the virus increases in our community, more and more of our staff are having to isolate, which is further increasing the pressure on our staffing issues,” Plummer told the Times.

At press time, 5.6 per cent of HHHS employees – 14 people – were isolating from work as a result of a COVID-19 infection or exposure. 

“It is important to note that the majority of those affected were exposed or infected through community spread, rather than at work at HHHS,” said Plummer. 

She notes that many healthcare organizations across Ontario are facing similar challenges. Last week, the William Osler Health System, which oversees operations at Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital, declared a “code orange,” which Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO of William Osler Health System said, “is typically used when demand outpaces capacity to ensure internal and external resources are deployed efficiently.” 

Last week, the Urgent Care Centre at Peel Memorial Hospital was temporarily closed until Feb. 1, with the web site noting the closure is “due to increasing volumes in our emergency departments, further compounded by our extreme capacity and staffing pressures.” 

Campbellford Memorial Hospital in Northumberland County closed their emergency department overnight on Dec. 24 as a result of insufficient staffing.

“HHHS continues to do all it can to ensure there are sufficient staffing numbers to maintain our programs and services, including working with Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health, bringing agency staffing support to HHHS, and recruiting new staff members to the HHHS team,” said Plummer. “We also continue to do all we can to support the health and well-being of our incredible staff team.”

The Haliburton County COVID-19 community assessment centre reported a 40.76 per cent positivity rate of tests for the period of Dec. 27 to Dec. 31, prior to eligibility for COVID-19 testing changing, up from a positivity rate of 21.77 per cent test positivity from Dec. 20 to Dec. 24 and a 2.94 per cent positivity rate from Dec. 13 to Dec. 17.

As she has done throughout the pandemic, Plummer praised the HHHS staff.

“Their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to providing the quality health care that our community counts on is nothing short of inspirational,” she said. “To support our staff and all healthcare workers, we ask that the community does everything they can to follow public health measures, including by being immunized for COVID-19 (first, second, and booster doses), as vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe illness and/or the need to be hospitalized due to COVID-19. Other measures, including wearing a mask in all public spaces, maintaining social/physical distancing, limiting social gatherings and staying home when able, and diligent hand-washing, are more important than ever.”

HHHS is preparing to accept patient transfers from hospitals throughout the province if and as required, said Plummer.