Editorial – Time to get to work

On July 2, the emergency department at the Perth campus of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak amongst staff. For more than 10 days, the residents of the town of 6,000, and the greater area, had to go 20 kilometres further to Smiths Falls to receive emergency medical treatment. This emergency closure is yet another example of Ontario’s crumbling medical system. Rural hospitals across the province were already in dire need of medical personnel before the COVID-19 pandemic began – COVID has only exacerbated the situation. At the same time Perth is without an ER, so too is the town of Clinton. Luckily, residents using the three hospitals in SDG Counties have not had an ER shutdown occur so far.

Ontario is in the midst of a seventh wave of COVID-19 infection, brought on by the Omicron BA.5 sub variant. Infections have spiked in recent weeks, while protections that were in place are no longer. This means that Ontario will be faced again with service issues as employees become ill with COVID-19.

Between January and May 2022, Ottawa Paramedic Services reported 526 “level zero” events meaning no ambulances were available for 9-11 calls. Many of those instances was due to paramedics being held at ERs waiting to transfer patients due to a lack of staff at hospitals. The cascading effect means more Ottawa calls being answered by outside ambulance services including Cornwall/SDG, and Prescott-Russell – potentially risking response times in these areas.

Many rural Ontarians are without a family doctor. Another walk-in medical clinic in Cornwall has closed. All these issues are human resources issues, meaning not enough staff are being hired and retained to meet the needs of the communities.

In 2018, newly-elected Premier Doug Ford promised to end what he called “hallway medicine”. Since then, millions have been poured into building new hospitals and expanding existing facilities – all very much needed. However it is no good to spend money on new bricks and mortar facilities when there is not enough staff to serve within those walls. Locally, in dealing with the shortage of family doctors, South Dundas and South Stormont’s doctor recruitment committee advocated for opening a Nurse-Practitioner clinic to ease some of the pressure on our health care system. A simple solution that could have been up and running in less than four months once approved. This was denied by then-Minister of Health Christine Elliott for reasons unknown.

It has been over a month since Ford’s government was re-elected with a mantra of “getting things done.” It was nearly a month before the Premier named his cabinet, and on August 8, he will recall the legislature. That does not reflect the urgency of this health care situation. Medical professionals are sounding the alarms regarding the state of health care. Residents and users of our health care system are at its mercy. The reality of government inaction does not match the “get it done” attitude elected government officials profess to have.

It’s time for the Ford Government to call an end to their victory-lap post-election vacation, and get back to work.

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