CANADA Doctor Shortage in Northwest Ontario Remains Dire, No Clear...

Doctor Shortage in Northwest Ontario Remains Dire, No Clear Relief Seen

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Nurses walk through the corridors of the emergency room at Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto. Emergency departments in northwest Ontario are still experiencing a critical staffing crisis that shows no signs of easing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Emergency departments in northwest Ontario continue to face a critical shortage of staff, and hospital leaders across the region are warning that the risk of emergency department closures could continue into the summer.

Three months ago, the emergency room in Red Lake, Ontario closed for 24 hours over the weekend due to a lack of a doctor. Officials say a similar situation could occur elsewhere if help is not found.

“Honestly, if healthcare workers in our region had not continued to work hours that put their personal health at risk and far beyond reasonable expectations, there would have been many more service closures,” said Dr. Sarah Van Der Loo. , Chairman of the Council of Chiefs of Staff of the Northwestern Region.

Physicians are burning out as they work overtime trying to keep services open, she said, and the situation is not limited to one particular hospital.

Patients in emergency rooms across Ontario have been waiting for a record long time to be admitted to hospital, and the situation is worsening, according to medical experts.

Ray Rusett, chief executive officer of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, is warning the public of a “very challenging task this summer” at the hospital’s emergency department as the vacancy rate stands at 41%.

“There’s a heroic effort going on – people taking on extra shifts and so on, maybe giving up summer vacations and things like that, just to try and keep these services open,” Rasett said. “But that means people can wait longer for service.”


Have you or someone close to you recently experienced an extended stay in an emergency room in northwestern Ontario? Write to CBC News to tell us about your experience.


On June 1, the Government of Ontario announced the expansion of its COVID-19 Summer Temporary Duty Program, which allows hospitals to offer allowances to attract temporary staff to emergency rooms at rural and northern hospitals.

Dr. Sarah Newbery, Associate Dean for Human Resources Strategy at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), is skeptical that the program will make much of a difference.

“Without the people in the system doing the work, it might not be as successful as I had hoped.”

Ray Rusett, president and CEO of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, Ontario, is warning of potential service delays this summer due to staffing shortages. (Logan Turner/CBC)

Work on several possible short-term solutions to the doctor shortage, proposed by doctors and recruiters themselves, has been delayed by recent provincial elections, Newbery said.

Since then, these proposals have been regularly discussed. These include funding graduate students to accompany locum tenens from their institutions who come to serve in rural areas in the north of the province, and providing real-time virtual access to specialists for physicians working alone in rural northern emergency rooms, which, will allow more doctors to feel comfortable accepting such shifts, Newbery said.

“We now have a window of time where we need to act quickly to implement many of these initiatives,” she said, adding that she hoped to see progress in July.

A physician recruiter in the Fort Francis and Rainy River area said he is still facing hurdles in meeting oversight requirements for doctors on restricted licenses, such as international medical graduates seeking to be licensed in Canada.

In 2015, according to Todd Hamilton, he went through the process of bringing an American-educated doctor to the Fort Francis and Rainy River area and had to organize three other local doctors to supervise and mentor as required by the college. small communities don’t have the resources to do so.

Dr. Sarah Newbery, associate dean for human resources strategy at the Medical University of Northern Ontario, says work to address the shortage of emergency room doctors in the northwest has been delayed due to provincial elections. (Dr. Sarah Newbery/Twitter)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told CBC News in March that it is allowing small communities to have a single supervisor or remote supervision by doctors outside the community. Hamilton said he was never aware of these options.

However, he said, the region recently responded to interest from a surgeon who was trying to regain his college license due to a gap in his job, “through no fault of his own.”

According to Hamilton, the College of Physicians and Surgeons denied remote monitoring.

“We spent quite a lot of time on it, so it was a little disappointing for us,” he said.

“You get these life buoys from time to time. And then once they’re shown to you, you’re going through the process, you realize that that’s not going to work for us either.”

Todd Hamilton of Fort Francis and the District Physician Hiring Committee says he wanted to hire a doctor whose Ontario license had expired, but he couldn’t meet the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons’ supervising requirements. (Presented by Todd Hamilton)

Shay Greenfield, a spokesman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons, said it was impossible to discuss a specific case without knowing the name of the physician in question, which Hamilton said he could not disclose.

“We want to work with the people to resolve as many issues as possible within our mandate and within the limits placed on us by law and other factors,” Greenfield said.

Rusett said he hopes to get help in his emergency room from Manitoba doctors holidaying in the region this summer, but delays in getting them licensed to work in Ontario have created a barrier.

“A three-month license processing would be seen as, you know, potentially feasible. But if in two weeks we have someone, perhaps coming to their cottage … how do we get this doctor’s license? he asked. “Because it could be a notice.”

Hospital leaders ask for help

Greenfield denied that the college takes three months to process license applications from out-of-state doctors, saying two to three weeks is the standard.

But Dr. Sean Moore, chief of staff at the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, said that was not his observation.

“We had a few people who just said, ‘I would never apply for a license in Ontario. I did this many years ago and it took so long that I will never do it again.”

Greenfield said delays in the processing of license applications could be due to lack of documentation or incomplete applications.

At Kenora, hospital chief executive Ray Rusett implored “anyone with any leeway” to use it to help hospitals in the Northwest this summer.

“Everyone is in trouble,” he said.

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