Monday, 11 April 2022

Staying afloat through the pandemic’s ‘tidal wave’

April 1 marks the start of a new fiscal year for Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare and a new operating budget for 2022-2023. Through additional government financial support, the organization’s financial health has never been better. At the same time, hospital operations have never been more challenged from the human resources perspective.

As the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate in our communities even as we see restrictions and public health mandates being lifted, our staff are getting sick or must isolate at home because of a potential exposure. Members of our communities continue to require hospital care, and inpatient occupancy consistently remains above 100%. In addition, since March 29 we have been grappling with a COVID outbreak within one of our sites. This is not only concerning but also puts immense strain on our staff.

In life we are being encouraged to get back to the way things used to be in many ways, however the impact of the pandemic on the health care system has only grown more taxing and challenging with wave after wave fatiguing those on the front line of care. As COVID surges in the community, experts are calling this latest stage a “tidal wave” with estimates that Ontario is seeing 100,000 to 120,000 new daily cases.

Every day at MAHC we feel the impacts of the ongoing pandemic with staffing challenges in many areas where we are working through staffing absences on a day-to-day basis. Throughout departments and different care areas our people are stretched thin and are working short in both hospitals.

Over the past two years, we have seen health care workers leave MAHC – approximately 10% of our workforce has departed for different opportunities, for a total change of career or for well-deserved retirement. Recruitment of new team members to fill vacancies and much-needed new positions has been difficult to say the least, especially if positions are temporary or part time.

Today there are more than 80 career opportunities posted on our website, predominantly in nursing, but also in many allied health professions. The health care attrition is especially concerning as Muskoka gears up for cottage season when there is greater demand for hospital services with an influx of residents in the area. Summer staffing levels will be difficult to achieve with an already unstable workforce across two hospital facilities.

All of these hardships mean careful and prudent decision making with respect to the services we can provide safely to our communities. In extenuating circumstances of staffing shortages, operating changes have to be made, such as reducing surgical activity to be able to redeploy staff to care for admitted patients. We know how difficult this is for those awaiting a procedure and we apologize for the delay in your care.

As a last resort, and only in a very dire situation, service changes could require temporarily siting a program or service at only one hospital until normal staffing can be resumed. Should these measures be required, please be patient with us and remember these actions are necessary to provide safe, quality care and to be here when our community needs us.

We can all play a role in supporting the health care system and staying safe. We support public health advice to continue wearing a mask indoors, washing your hands frequently, avoiding large gatherings and getting vaccinated. We support minimizing risks to our staff and patients with COVID vaccine policies and screening practices. We want everyone to enjoy a safe and healthy summer. Please help us by doing your part.