West Grey declares emergency in local health care

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West Grey municipal council declared a state of emergency in health care Tuesday morning, Mayor Kevin Eccles said. 

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He said he’s concerned that all 10 in-patient beds are being removed from Durham hospital and put in Kincardine and Walkerton hospitals, and that Durham’s emergency department hours have been reduced. 

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“As of last week, patients were being moved either to Kincardine, Southampton or Chesley. It has already started,” he said. The declaration seeks the province’s help to return the in-patient beds and to staff the emergency department 24/7, Eccles said.

The declaration will be lifted “when we get the hospital back running at capacity.” 

“Several” doctors on the Durham hospital locum list have said they won’t work in Durham if they can’t admit patients there, according to West Grey’s application for a judicial review of the hospital board’s decision to eliminate inpatient beds in Durham. 

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“It is unclear how the emergency department will be able to be properly staffed with the withdrawal of locum doctors,” says the application, which West Grey released Tuesday.  

The municipal emergency declaration, announced in an email, quoted Eccles saying “given the actions of South Bruce Grey Health Centre, it is vital that we take these drastic measures to safeguard the residents of West Grey and neighbouring communities.”  

“These measures were implemented due to the response of our stakeholders concerns and the lack of action from the bodies responsible for the delivery of this essential human right.”

Durham hospital (South Bruce Grey Health Centre photo)
Durham hospital (South Bruce Grey Health Centre photo)

South Bruce Grey Health Centre reduced the emergency department hours in Durham hospital to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to staffing shortages, on March 10. The department remains open seven days a week. Neighbouring Chesley’s ER is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Walkerton and Kincardine emergency departments are open 24/7. 

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On April 25 the hospital corporation announced, as of June 3, all 10 in-patient beds in Durham would be moved to Walkerton and Kincardine hospitals due to staffing pressures and for safety. 

“It’s unprecedented and I’m not happy that we’ve had to go this route,” Eccles said of the declaration. I think it’s the only thing that I can do to secure the health and safety and alleviate the mental stress from the community that’s served by the Durham hospital,” Eccles said in the interview. 

He said he’s looking to the provincial government for help “because South Bruce Grey Health Centre hasn’t given us any hope or any positive direction that they’re doing anything or anything to alleviate what they have proposed is a staffing issue. 

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“It looks more like they’re doing everything they can to create a staffing issue to generate the narrative that we’ve got to close the Durham hospital.” 

Nancy Shaw, the president and chief executive officer of South Bruce Grey Health Centre, rejected that allegation in an interview, noting there’s a nationwide nursing shortage and consequently, there continue to be closures at hospitals. Durham hospital will remain a “hospital site,” she said.

“Movement of beds to other sites is an attempt to maintain services at the Durham site,” Shaw said. Moving the beds relieves pressure to staff in-patient beds 24/7 in Durham, and moves beds to hospitals with more staff, she said. Some nurses work both on the in-patient floor and the emergency department in Durham, she said. 

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“And South Bruce Grey remains committed to providing access to care for the Durham community and surrounding area. And the emergency department will remain open, from 7 to five, seven days a week.” 

She said “we are continuing to be committed to the Durham site” by considering bringing new services to the Durham site. “And we’ll have further conversations with our communities and engagement in the future.” 

Asked if they still use agency nurses in Durham, Shaw said they do at all four SBGHC sites. But there are “challenges” using and keeping agency nurses in Durham hospital, she said. 

Meanwhile, Eccles said papers were filed in Brampton court last Friday seeking a judicial review of the hospital board’s “actions and election of the board. Is the board sitting under its own bylaws?” The judicial review is scheduled for Oct. 7, West Grey staff said.

And he will be attending an Ontario Health Coalition rally at Queen’s Park Thursday out of concern for the Durham hospital “and more so even about rural health care in rural Ontario,” Eccles said.

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