Perth hospital extends ER closure amid staffing shortage

A serious staffing shortage at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital will keep the Perth campus’s emergency department closed longer than expected.

The ER closed on Saturday after COVID-19 sidelined some of the few staff who were available. Patients are being directed to the Smiths Falls campus about 20 kilometres away. The hospital planned to gradually reopen its Perth ER on Thursday, but said Tuesday that won’t be possible.

“In spite of our best effort to reopen the Perth Emergency Department later this week, we learned that additional Emergency Department staff have contracted COVID-19 in the community. As a result, we will be unable to reopen our Perth Emergency Department as planned this week,” a statement from the hospital said.

While COVID-19 is getting the blame for the closure, a long-time doctor at the hospital says the outbreak only made a precarious staffing situation worse.

"To be strict about the language; yeah, COVID caused the closure of our emergency department but the reality of it is we have no built-in resilience in our nursing staff," Dr. Alan Drummond said on Saturday.

Drummond says the hospital went from 15 emergency room nurses down to seven a week ago, and then half of them were sidelined by COVID-19.

Drummond told Newstalk 580 CFRA last week that the number of staff has been dwindling because of people leaving for other opportunities or quitting because of the working conditions.

“I think our nurses have been quite open and clear,” he said. “They have been saying for not just weeks, but months and actually years, we can’t keep up with the pace, things have got to change, something’s got to happen here.”

Hospital CEO Michael Cohen said in a statement Tuesday that the hospital is committed to reopening the ER.

“Unfortunately, with the latest blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have the staff needed to re-open and sustain operations in our Perth Emergency Department. Every effort is being made to re-establish services at our Perth Emergency Department as soon as possible,” he said.