WLMH OR weekend closures to start next week

By Mike Williscraft


The operating room nursing shortage which has been at a crisis state for months has now necessitated weekend closures of the ORs at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital.

Hamilton Health Sciences president and CEO Rob MacIsaac made the announcement to staff last Friday after a second OR nurse gave notice she would be leaving.

The latest departure has made a crisis situation untenable if current service levels were to be maintained, so HHS has made the move.

“A number of staff in the last week have indicated they would be moving on and so that’s posing particular challenges at that site. It has to be said that the nurses at that site have been doing backflips to try to maintain service levels there but they are becoming weary,” said MacIsaac.

“We are going to need to get to, on an interim basis, another model that presents reasonable expectations of how much those nurses are prepared to work.”

The OR roster requires 12 staff, full-time and part time, to maintain proper levels but it currently has three FT nurses and three PT, with one “shared” PT nurse. The immediate need is five hires.

Asked if he thinks the ongoing instability at WLMH has either pushed staff to consider retirement or move elsewhere and/or kept potential hires from considering the job postings at WLMH, MacIsaac dismissed the notion.

“Well, I have met with the OR nurses as a group and I have also spoken with the people who are choosing to move on for one reason or another. I’m satisfied that you know folks are leaving not because they feel like their jobs are in jeopardy at West Lincoln but rather for a variety of other reasons,” said MacIsaac.

“I think that you know, in some cases, (staff) are eligible to retire where they have their numbers and where they’ve been working extraordinary hours, really compromising their work-life balance. That’s been a key motivating factor . In other cases, it’s really been people who are looking to advance their careers who were looking to move to a site where they’ve got bigger opportunities, leadership opportunities, skills advancement opportunities, as opposed to ‘I’m getting worried I’m going to lose my job if I stay here’

No one who has left has given me that reason.

While MacIsaac steadfastly maintain he and his organization are doing all they can, that sentiment does not hold water for many in the community.

Community Action co-chair Tony Joosse

advancement opportunities, as opposed to ‘I’m getting worried I’m going to lose my job if I stay here’. No one who has left has given me that reason.

While MacIsaac steadfastly maintains he and his organization are doing all they can, that sentiment does not hold water for many in the community.

Community Action co-chair Tony Joosse said very little has changed since HHS’s Oct. 22 announcement of a proposed 27-month closure of the ORs to accommodate a major renovation.

“I feel like I am right back to Oct. 22 again,” said Joosse.

“What is a shock is that after the Minister of Health’s (Christine Elliott) mandate, – at Queen’s Park and at the funding announcement at WLMH – Rob MacIsaac and his board have failed to do their job and fulfill the Minister’s direction to maintain all services with no closures.”

“Do your job. That was my message to him (MacIsaac) when we met face-to-face last month. I can’t do the hiring and it appears he can’t either. It draws attention to the question of his ability to do that job. That’s his job. He has to deliver. I don’t know why he’s not. They say the right things but all the actions we’ve seen have been wrong. It is all about priority. It certainly looks like WLMH is not a priority of MacIsaac or his board.”

MPP Sam Oosterhoff said the move to close the ORs on weekends contradicts every direction given to HHS to date.

“My conversations with HHS have been of the need to earn back the community’s trust and start by filling the needed positions. They need to get to get OR nurses yesterday. We made a commitment. The Minister was clear in her remarks,” said Oosterhoff.

“I am not the CEO. I am not sure what needs to be done to recruit new staff. Rob and Aaron (Levo, v-p communications) are there to do that and it needs to be done in weeks, not months. They are the executive of WLMH and they need to find a solution that is equitable for the community.”

Regarding the comment of Minister of Health Christine Elliott’s assertion in the legislature and within the walls of WLMH, Oosterhoff said closure is not an option.

“I can’t speak for Christine. I can tell you her ministry has spoken to HHS officials. We’ve been told they are doing everything they can to recruit. I am putting on all the pressure I can as is the Minister,” said Oosterhoff, again adding it is HHS officials who have to get solutions in place, not the government,” he said.

And what ramifications could materialize should that not happen?

“That’s a conversation which needs to happen,” said Oosterhoff, who would not comment further.

MacIsaac said HSS staffing challenges are not only at WLMH. He said other facilities face potential reduction of services if staffing levels don’t improve. He did not say which facilities or which services.

“Given the shortage across all our sites, we have the potential for cancelled services at all of our sites not just West Lincoln,” said MacIsaac.

“You can rest assured they are going to a service that desperately needs them in their landing spot. But I think, at the end of the day, you know we do our best to try to make sure that we’re recognizing the needs of each of our sites. I can tell you now, we have been to the extent that’s reasonable deferring  or extending space at the West Lincoln site, but we can only do it for so long before we feel we’re not being respectful of the employees.”

Andrew Smith, chair of the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital Community Advisory Committee – which was formed as liaison committee to bridge the HHS board and the communities served by WLMH – said he does not believe the HHS understands how dire the community sentiment is in Niagara West.

“HSS has a major public relations problem on its hands because the public sentiment is clear. I have heard many times, MacIsaac and the board failed to get the OR closed the first time, so now they will bleed it out. That is what the public thinks. It is a question if HHS cares or not. They say they do,” said Smith.

“The community believes this is just another way to skin a cat. Number one loss of endoscopy services. That didn’t do it, so Number 2 was the proposed 27-month closure suggested. Now, number 3, because they could not turn off the life support immediately, is the weekend closure of ORs.”

Key to the jeopardy WLMH will face in a couple of years time will be when usage numbers are put in front of the Ministry of Health to justify facility needs, significantly depleted numbers will be served up.

“How can you go to the Ministry to support your needs when the numbers are dropping through the floor. We could have 250 or 300 births by then, down from 800 or 900. How do you justify OB and, by extension, the ORs?”

MacIsaac said his team’s goal is to get up to full speed as soon as possible.

“We’re looking at a variety of strategies to try to get back to 24/7 coverage and then I will be diligent in pursuing those but, the stubborn fact is we’ve got this national shortage but we are committed to creating a long-term viability for the site.


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