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Staff shortages are still a key issue at Health Sciences North

Departing CEO Dominic Giroux tells annual hospital meeting that he is confident Queen's Park will come through with funding to expand the Sudbury hospital to a proper size with enough beds to solve the waiting time problem  

The shortage of professional health care staff has been a major concern at Health Sciences North (HSN) in the past year, according to departing hospital president and CEO Dominic Giroux.

He outlined the details Tuesday evening as HSN held its 2023 annual meeting virtually. The hospital board of directors looked back on the financial status, the management and the medical achievements at HSN for the past 12 months.

It was Giroux's fifth and final report to the hospital board. 

Giroux is leaving HSN after five and a half years in the top job there. He has accepted an offer to become president and CEO of Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa, his hometown. His new appointment takes effect on July 31.

Speaking to the issue of staff shortages, Giroux said a survey of Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) CEO's revealed that 96 per cent identified the health human resources (HHR) as among their top three priorities.

"And 66 per cent identified it as their No. 1 issue," said Giroux.

He added that in the past 11 months it has become a daily concern at HSN, which is also Northern Ontario's largest hospital.

"Since mid-July (2022), we've dealt with an average daily shortage of 30 RNs (registered nurses), nine RPNs (registered practical nurses) and six PSWs (personal support workers) on day and night shifts combined," said Giroux.

Despite the challenges, Giroux said the trend has been improving in the past few months.

"We have recruited 845 employees during the last fiscal year, while 507 left the organization. We recruited 1.7 new employees for every employee who left and we also made the choice not to use private agencies," he added.

Speaking to employee performance, Giroux said the hospital increased surgeries in the past years to more than 15,000 procedures, which is an increase compared to the pandemic years of 2021 and 2022. 

As high as that number was, Giroux said the number for 2019-2020 was almost 16,000 procedures. He said the pace of recovery in the past couple of years was affected partially because of the staff shortage.

Giroux also spoke to other performance measures and said things like wait times for emergency room access, CT scans and MRI exams were not perfect, but gradually improving and in most cases better than the provincial average. 

Girous said having a patient waiting in an emergency room for 20, 30 or 40 hours before getting an inpatient bed was not safe, was not patient-centred, nor was it acceptable. He said HSN is working to expedite the plan to create more bed spaces. 

"We advanced the work towards Phase 1 of our capital redevelopment for more inpatient beds, more space for mental health and addictions, and for NeoKids," said Giroux. 

He also said it is well-known that HSN was built too small for a city the size of Sudbury, but said he is still confident that the province will come through on a promise made several years ago to make sure Sudbury has a correct-sized one-site hospital. He said there are three good reasons for that.

"Reason No. 1, Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health have supported every single interim capacity measure put forward by HSN since 2018. Reason No. 2, the province committed in the 2023 budget more than $48 billion over the next 10 years in hospital infrastructure. 

"(And) reason No. 3, the ministry has approved so far only two major capital redevelopment projects in the North; on the James Bay coast and in Kenora."

On the financial side, Giroux also spoke to the issue of Ontario Bill 124, which was a move in 2019 by the Ontario government to limit public sector wage increases to only one per cent a year, for three years. This means that nurses and other hospital workers were limited in getting raises.

But the courts have struck down Bill 124 and even though it is being appealed by the Doug Ford Conservatives, Giroux said the legislation has no force and effect.

"Since hospitals have collective agreements with re-opener clauses, the Ontario Hospital Association and the various unions are legally required to immediately begin bargaining with retroactive applications," said Giroux. 

Based on recent settlements, he said the cost to HSN of reaching new contract agreements could run as high as $16.7 million dollars. 

Giroux said HSN does not have that money in its budget, but the hope is that the Ministry of Health will come through with one-time funding to resolve that.  

"The Ministry of Health has not yet indicated how it will fund hospitals for this one-time expense," said Giroux. 

"On June 6, the Ontario Deputy Minister of Health, wrote to all hospital board chairs confirming the ministry's commitment to providing financial support for hospitals affected by recent re-open arbitration awards, and that the ministry will communicate in the coming weeks further administrative details regarding to support." 

This was Giroux's last presentation to the local hospital board and hospital employees.

Giroux became CEO and president of HSN in October of 2017. Prior to that he had been CEO and vice-chancellor of Laurentian University. 

He announced in February of 2023 that he had accepted an offer to become president and CEO of Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa. Giroux said he was attracted to Montfort partially because of its role as an academic hospital, along with "the importance of ensuring the availability of French-speaking healthcare professionals for years to come, and the provincial leadership we must exercise as a flagship institution of Francophone Ontario.”

As a hometowner from Ottawa, Hôpital Montfort is also the hospital where Giroux was born.

The HSN annual meeting, which lasted two hours, also examined finances, medical programs and services, and the importance of social accountability to its patients and the communities it serves. 

The hospital is also one of the largest single employers in Greater Sudbury with 4,000 dedicated employees, 500 medical staff and scientists, 2,900 learners and 700 active volunteers. The hospital also has 13 distinct work sites in Sudbury and 25 in total across the region.

Financially, in terms of expenses, HSN reported total expenses in the past fiscal year of $616 million. This compares with total expenses of $598 million reported for the 2022 fiscal year and $569 million reported for the 2021 fiscal year.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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