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London region ERs have closed 77 times this year: Report

Posted: December 6, 2023

(December 5, 2023)

By: Free Press

Rural and small-town hospital emergency rooms in Southwestern Ontario have been closed at least 77 times so far this year, a new report by a provincial health advocacy group says.

There have been 868 temporary emergency room closures, including one that was permanent, so far this year across Ontario, the report released Tuesday by the Ontario Health Coalition says. At least 77 involve hospitals in the London region, including St. Marys, Clinton, Seaforth, Listowel and Wingham.

“In the counties of midwestern Ontario – Perth, Huron, Wellington, Dufferin, Bruce and Grey – we are seeing multiple hospital emergency departments closed at the same time,” coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said in a news release.

“Patients in medical crises have to confirm, on their own, that the next hospital emergency isn’t also closed.”

The emergency room at St. Marys Memorial Hospital, a Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance site, was shuttered overnight three times between May and August, and twice in early November, the report said. Staff shortages have been the most frequent reason for the temporary closures.

The hospital network also has been forced to temporarily close its ER in Seaforth 17 times in 2023, the report said. The emergency room at the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance’s hospital site in Clinton has been closed overnight since 2019, and faced additional cuts to its hours three times in June and July, the report said.

During the closures, patients were routed to emergency rooms at other nearby hospitals, including Stratford.

Wingham’s emergency department has been closed 31 times this year, the Ontario Health Coalition report said. Its sister site in Listowel, a member of the same hospital network, was shuttered temporarily during the day on Jan. 8 due to a staff shortage, the report said.

The emergency room at the South Bruce Grey Health Centre in Walkerton has had 20 closures, the report said.

The Ontario Health Coalition report analyzed emergency room closure reports from the start of the year up until Nov. 24.

The summer months and holiday season can be particularly difficult for smaller hospitals, with routine absences by doctors and nurses, including scheduled vacation, plus illnesses putting pressure on already under-staffed and over-capacity departments.

Rural and small-town hospitals, like others provincewide, also continue to grapple with challenges in recruiting and retaining the specialized health-care workers they require.

Focused recruitment efforts are underway to attract workers to smaller centres. This year, hospitals in the London region have been taking advantage of a provincial program that gives new nurses $25,000 in grants for a two-year commitment in an under-served community. The Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance alone has hired at least 16 nurses under the program.

Queen’s Park critics were quick to react to the Ontario Health Coalition report Tuesday, vowing to push for accountability from the Progressive Conservative government.

“Hospitals are a safety net for everyone and these closure rates are absolutely shocking,” New Democrat health critic France Gélinas said in a news release.

Added Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, “It’s shameful and it’s inexcusable. Each and every closure is felt personally by an Ontario family.”

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