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Impact of pandemic and staff shortages hitting hard at Health Sciences North in Sudbury

HSN urges residents to continue with pandemic precautions just to reduce the chance of more patients being sent to hospital
140422_LG_Hospital staff shortage PHOTO
Health Sciences North.

As nursing and health human resources (HHR) executives across Canada debate the issue of the nursing shortage, the reality has hit home at Sudbury's Health Sciences North (HSN).

The hospital reports that since January there have been days when more than 200 of its workers have been off the job. The figures were released by HSN communications manager Jason Turnbull.

"Since January, Health Sciences North has seen at any given time between 92 and 204 employees and physicians isolating at home, either because they had COVID-19 or were high risk close contacts to COVID cases. This represents between two per cent and 4.4 per cent of our teams. We are currently at 194 colleagues or 4.2 per cent of teams self-isolating," Turnbull said in an email on Wednesday.

This is in line with the concern expressed in January by Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), who said "Ontario has plunged into a full-blown nursing human resource crisis.”

The RNAO said the shortage of nurses in Ontario was actually an acute situation before the pandemic. 

At the time, Grinspun was commenting on the need for the College of Nurses of Ontario to expedite the applications of foreign trained nurses who were seeking to work in Ontario.  

Turnbull said the staffing situation at HSN is similar to that at other hospitals in Ontario and that Sudbury is not alone with the problem.

"COVID hospitalizations in Ontario have increased from 553 to 1,366 in the last 16 days," Turnbull said.

In February, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) commented on the impact of the pandemic with respect to the shortage of nurses and other health care professionals. 

The OHA said it was appealing to the Ontario government for additional funding to enable hospitals to hire more staff.  

"The OHA recommends funding and government policy support to enable the hiring of more registered nurses, registered practical nurses as well as other critical healthcare workers over the next five years," said the association.  

"Hospital members have emphasized the need to take a multi-faceted approach to the health human resources (HHR) challenges facing the healthcare system, and as such, the OHA continues to advocate for a comprehensive HHR strategy from the Government of Ontario. As previously noted, the OHA developed a substantive policy brief to assist with these efforts and support continued engagement with the Ministry of Health and Ontario Health including during the pre-election period," the association remarked in a members' update in February.

Back in Sudbury, Turnbull said the local shortage situation could have unintended consequences.

“This can unfortunately lead to longer wait times in the Emergency Department and for other services. Our public health unit area continues to be in the top nine districts in the province with the highest number of active COVID cases per capita," Turnbull said.

"The number of COVID patients at HSN is currently 34, higher than the records we saw in 2020 and 2021. Since January 18th, HSN admitted 528 patients with COVID. That’s more than HSN admitted from March 2020 to mid-January 2022," he added.

Turnbull further advised that "COVID is not over" and accordingly HSN was encouraging the public to continue to get vaccinated, wear masks, wash their hands and be physically distant to protect themselves and their loved ones. He said this would reduce the impact at the hospital.

"Minimize COVID hospitalizations at a time when a number of healthcare workers have to isolate themselves at home because of community transmission," Turnbull said.