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Reduced hours at Chesley ER to continue 'until further notice'

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An ongoing nursing shortage at its Chesley site prompted South Bruce Grey Health Centre to announce Wednesday that it will continue with reduced hours for the hospital’s emergency department beyond Feb. 1.

The hospital corporation changed the hours from around the clock, seven days a week coverage to an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily schedule Sept. 21, with a plan to return to full service Feb. 1, provided the nursing staff complement had stabilized enough by then.

However, SBGHC said there is still a shortage of nursing staff qualified to provide 24/7 ED coverage at its Chesley site and, as a result, those reduced hours will be maintained until “further notice.”

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President and CEO Michael Barrett said continuing with the reduced hours is an interim measure, with the goal being to get the Chesley emergency department operating again on a 24/7 basis.

“The decision was very difficult because we want to ensure we’re providing 24/7 emergency department service to the Chesley community, but unfortunately without that stable pool of experienced nurses, it’s not possible for us to do that,” he said Wednesday in an interview.

“So we are actively recruiting, actively training nurses to ensure we are getting our staff to a point where they can work independently and safely in the emergency department.”

Barrett said SBGHC is also working with the Ministry of Health’s workforce branch to identify how it can receive provincial assistance to get the nursing complement it requires.

He said the nursing shortage is not unique to the Chesley hospital and recruiting and retaining RNs and registered practical nurses is “very challenging” in rural communities.

There are currently two part-time RN vacancies at the Chesley hospital and both positions are posted externally.

“We have had some success recruiting new nurses in the last couple of months, however, these nurses are new graduates or have limited ED experience,” interim chief nursing officer Lynn Bos said in a statement.

In order to return to 24-hour emergency department service in Chesley, the hospital requires senior RNs with ED experience who are “confident in their skills and abilities to safely operate the department during the overnight hours when there is limited staff in the building,” according to SBGHC.

Since implementing the reduced operating hours, more than 85 per cent of the volume of patients that are typically seen in a 24-hour period at the Chesley ED have been seen between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Around-the-clock emergency department service is still available at SBGHC’s other three sites in Walkerton, Durham and Kincardine.

The Hanover & District Hospital also has a 24/7 emergency department.

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