Hearst, Ont., hospital may close its ER for a week next month due to staffing shortage

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If things don’t improve, the Hôpital Notre-Dame Hospital in Hearst, Ont., won’t have enough emergency room doctors for a week in August.

Mélanie Goulet, a recruitment co-ordinator with the small northern Ontario hospital, said physician retirements and cancelled flights have led to a doctor shortage in the community. For at least one week in August, that means the hospital may have to close its emergency room.

Goulet said the hospital often relies on physicians from other parts of Ontario and Quebec to fill in gaps on a short-term basis.

“They come from a bit of everywhere,” she said.

“So we have one that is in our community regularly. She comes from Montreal and she’s with us usually about three times a month.”

Goulet said the hospital had five local doctors who covered the emergency room, but three recent retirements have meant they rely on physicians from other communities at least half the time.

One regular emergency room physician had her flight to Hearst cancelled so had to cancel a shift.

In addition to a shortage in the emergency room, Goulet said the hospital will have to cancel some surgeries in August due to the doctor shortage.

“It’s becoming a very big problem,” Goulet said.

She said the next closest hospital is in Kapuskasing, Ont., about 99 kilometres away, and it has also had to deal with physician shortages.

Then there’s the hospital in Timmins, Ont., 262 kilometres away.

Goulet said that in the long term, NOSM University, the region’s medical school, is expected to recruit more doctors in northern Ontario, but it will take years to fill existing gaps.

A worker in the intensive-care unit at a Toronto hospital cares for a patient in this file photo. In Red Lake, Ont., the hospital’s emergency room was set to close recently for 12 hours due to a doctor shortage until a doctor stepped up for the overnight shift. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Issue across Ontario 

Other small hospitals in Ontario have faced similar issues related to a shortage of doctors.

Last week, the hospital in Red Lake, Ont., narrowly avoided a second temporary emergency room closure.

“We had a doctor who told us. ‘I’ll come tomorrow night’ to avoid a shutdown this week,” hospital chief executive officer Sue LeBeau told Radio-Canada.

“That said, we are still facing potential closures in the following weeks and throughout the month of August,” she said.

Other Ontario hospitals — in Perth, Clinton, Listowel and Wingham — had to close their emergency rooms for hours, or even days at a time, because they didn’t have enough doctors to fill shifts.



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