The Kingston Health Science Centre (KHSC) has announced that on July 20th, it will begin limiting the daily number of patients seen at the Urgent Care Centre (UCC) at its Hotel Dieu Hospital site. According to a news release, the decision was made ensure that high quality care is given.
“Moving forward, the UCC will provide care for up to 120 patients each day,” a news release from KHSC said.
“The UCC team will determine daily how many patients it can safely care for depending on the complexity of conditions needing to be addressed, the number of physicians and nurses available, the status of the Emergency Department (ED) at the Kingston General Hospital (KGH) site, as well as wait times for registered patients at UCC to be assessed.”
Due to this, the Urgent Care Centre may close earlier than 8:00pm on several days.
KHSC Chief of Staff, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick places blame on the ongoing physician and staff shortages across the country and the region, coupled with other factors causing strain on the UCC.
“With ongoing physician and staff shortages and growing patient volumes through the pandemic, hospitals across the country including KHSC, have been forced to make difficult decisions,” says KHSC Chief of Staff, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick.
“We have exhausted all other options and recognize the inconvenience this will cause for some people in our community. We ask everyone to help us preserve care for those who need it most and only come to the UCC if your health concern is indeed urgent.”
The release says the capping of patients will allow physician resources to be more concentrated at the Emergency Department at KGH.
Dr. Tim Chaplin, Medical Director of KHSC's Emergency Medicine Program, said that while staffing shortages certainly have exacerbated the problem faced by Kingston's health network, the main reason for this change is the increase in both the overall volume of patients registering and more complex medical cases being treated in the UCC.
"We're seeing more of that type of patient present to the Urgent Care than we have in the past," Dr. Chaplin said.
"That makes it challenging to assess, diagnose and come up with a treatment plan with our patients."
Dr. Chaplin added that some patients have been reluctant to seek out healthcare during the pandemic, and as such some have seen these medical concerns progress to a point where they are harder to diagnose and treat.
He added that recruitment is an ongoing topic of conversation at KHSC, and hospitals all throughout the country frankly, but with no easy answer on how to increase the qualified staff on hand, the staffing shortage issue doesn't appear to be something that can be fixed in the short term.
"Certainly recruitment and retention is a topic of discussion that comes up all the time... When we saw them leaving during the pandemic we had quite a drain and our recovery is now magnifying just how important the human resources aspect is to our healthcare system." Dr. Chaplin said.
“We currently have a number of physician and nursing vacancies and recruiting is an ongoing effort. It’s difficult to simply hire because there aren’t enough people to fill all the hospital vacancies in Ontario and it takes time to recruit and train specialists such as emergency and urgent care doctors and nurses.”
The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) says that shortages are extremely prevalent in Ontario in particular, and estimates that upwards of 22,000 nurses are needed in Ontario just to catch up to the national average.
"Nurses are burnt out, exhausted, suffering PTSD and moral distress, not to mention sickened with COVID and many are off with long COVID," said a statement from the ONA.
"Some of our members have not had a vacation in years due to the pandemic. They are being denied a much-needed breather because there is no one else to cover the shifts."
Dr. Chaplin adds that while COVID is an ongoing concern and KHSC expects a rise in patients based on provincial trends, it is not a driving factor in the decision to cap patients.
Patients who arrive after the doors have closed will be encouraged to seek care elsewhere, such as a walk-in or virtual care clinic if they are unable to wait for the UCC to reopen the following morning. After hours, all individuals who have emergent medical concerns such as uncontrolled bleeding or pain, or serious trouble breathing are encouraged to go to the closest emergency department.
Alternative healthcare options in the city for those seeking treatment from the Urgent Care Centre can be found here.
Story by Owen Fullerton, YGK News, for the Local Journalism Initiative