And so are almost all sectors in healthcare. In fact, there has been a seismic shift in hiring practices in hospitals across the province given the health human resources shortage affecting almost all facilities.
We have known for a long time that healthcare needs were outpacing our ability to generate appropriately trained staff in different disciplines in healthcare and the pandemic has accelerated the issue. It is a matter of supply and demand.
The combination of community growth and higher acuity has increased healthcare demand locally. We are seeing more people presenting with more advanced illness.
After 2.5 years working in the challenging conditions of a pandemic, some existing providers are looking towards retirement or a change in practice environment, thus reducing the supply of trained individuals.
And we cannot forget that COVID-19 transmission continues within our community and amongst our staff. All it takes is a couple of COVID positive staff members in a particular department to turn a manageable situation into a significant challenge in staffing.
The combination of these factors has required hospitals and in particular, Emergency Departments with limited staff to prioritize the most emergent cases, with less urgent cases waiting longer. In extreme cases, some hospitals across the province have had to modify or limit access to various services, including emergency room care.
This is an oversimplification of a very complex and challenging situation facing healthcare today, but it helps provide insight into our approaches at OSMH. There are no easy or immediate answers but there are a number of things OSMH and our partners are working on to not only get through these staffing challenges, but set us up better for the future.
We recognize we need to work smarter, not harder to meet the increasing demands on the healthcare system and that means working more as a team. This is the inspiration for the OSMH vision, We Are One Community. We see the efforts of the numerous partners associated with the Couchiching Ontario Health Team (OHT) as one of several important approaches. By approaching healthcare as a single, integrated system, we are able to overcome historical challenges with accessing services. The Couchiching OHT continues to support functions like transitions from hospital to home, as well as COVID testing and vaccination clinics. We look forward to the Fall when we anticipate expanding services to provide additional integrated, team-based care.
We have also made great strides in recruitment to enhance our supply of new healthcare providers. OSMH is very busy at training doctors, nurses and many other healthcare providers. We are working very closely with academic institutions to ensure the best possible experience for our trainees with the understanding that the relationships they make as students will extend into their professional lives. This also generates benefits for our existing staff, who have more opportunity to develop their skills as mentors. It is more work for the existing team to train our incoming staff; however, it generates a sense of hope to see the next generation of providers. For this I am grateful to all who participate in training and education.
Unfortunately this takes time for the training to occur, particularly for the more specialized positions. Our staff need the appropriate time and experience as part of their growth and development in these skilled roles. We are doing what we can to accelerate training with innovation like high-tech simulation using computer-generated scenarios; however, we acknowledge it does not replace the real-life experience for professional development.
What does this mean for OSMH essential services like the Emergency Department?
Some days are certainly better than others. Some days we start short-staffed and one or two sick calls is all it takes to necessitate an “all hands on deck” approach to maintain access to the services our community needs. Irrespective of the situation, the commitment of the Emergency Department team and the entire organization is abundantly evident to do whatever it takes to keep the essential services accessible.
What can you do to help?
An ounce of prevention is still the best approach. We strongly encourage all the safe practices associated with COVID-19 including vaccine boosters and masking where appropriate. This is also a good opportunity to reinforce general health habits and follow up to avoid injury or worsening conditions.
We encourage our community to look to follow up with their primary care practitioner or alternate community care provider in non-urgent situations. Everyone is very busy and working at their capacity so some patience is required.
There are also additional virtual services that might help navigate the system. We would encourage the use of Health Connect Ontario website or by dialing 811 for health advice from a registered nurse and the Community and Social Services Help Line by dialing 211 to identify local service organizations.
As we work through this next set of challenges as One Community, I remain hopeful that we will make it through this challenging summer, preparing for what could be a very busy Fall season.
Our doors remain open, and yes, we are still hiring.
Carmine Stumpo, President & CEO Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital