Toronto General Hospital under staffing shortage, critical care bed alert across ICUs

The situation in Ontario hospitals is taking a turn for the worse. Maleeha Sheikh speaks to medical professionals who discuss the current challenges and what the province needs to do immediately.

By Lucas Casaletto

Toronto General Hospital is the latest healthcare system feeling the immediate pressure of staffing shortages, citing a “critical care bed alert” at three of its intensive care units.

A spokesperson for University Health Network (UHN), which includes Toronto General Hospital, says the intensive care units — including the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CICU), the Coronary Intensive Care Unit (CICU) and the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) — are at their total bed capacity or have limited human resources to keep all physical critical care beds open safely.

“Due to multiple factors, including issues driven by the ongoing pandemic, we are experiencing a staffing shortage that requires this action,” UHN’s Gillian Howard said in an email to CityNews.

“When under critical care bed alert, we actively triage patients that require specialized ICU care and work collaboratively with critical to ensure patients get the most appropriate care. This does happen from time to time.”

According to the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), about 25 hospitals in Ontario were forced to scale back sections of their facilities on the long weekend due to staff shortages.

Lakeridge Health, home to several regional specialty centres and services in Durham Region, recently shut down the Bowmanville, Ont. hospital intensive care unit to stabilize staffing levels.

On July 24, Toronto Western Hospital’s emergency room almost shut down due to a staffing shortage but was able to secure enough last-minute workers to remain open.

Various unions representing some 70,000 hospital workers in Ontario have renewed their calls for the Ford government to address ongoing staffing shortages contributing to recent emergency room closures, suggesting measures such as raising wages and putting in financial incentives to boost hiring.

“We are outraged and alarmed about the growing impact the nursing shortage is having on patient care,” the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said last week.

“These closures are not the fault of individual hospitals, they are a symptom of the province-wide neglect of our dedicated registered nurses and healthcare professionals throughout the pandemic and before.”

RELATED: Ontario healthcare system on life support: Why are ER wait times so long?

Nursing organizations province-wide have called for a change to international licensing applications to help deal with the current staffing crisis. The Ontario College of Nurses said last week that nearly 4,000 applications were processed by June, double what was processed all of last year.

Ontario’s health minister said the province is looking at getting internationally trained nurses working here as quickly as possible to address staffing shortages that have led to emergency room closures for hours or even days at a time.

Sylvia Jones spoke with CityNews amid a growing chorus of opposition MPPs calling for her to provide tangible solutions to what they say is a crisis facing the province’s healthcare system.

sylvia jones

According to the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), about 25 hospitals in Ontario were forced to scale back sections of their facilities on the long weekend due to staff shortages. Photo: CityNews.

Jones told CityNews her role in the last few weeks has been to meet with organizations and individuals in the sector who have solutions and listen to their feedback.

Jones says the work involves what the government has already been doing for the past four years, which includes increasing the number of workers in the system — she touts more than 10,000 added since the start of the pandemic.

She says the government will introduce “additional measures” to boost capacity and specifically mentioned a backlog of internationally trained health workers waiting for certifications.

Staff on the front lines tell CityNews COVID-19 has stressed cracks in the foundation of a system that was already on the verge of collapse.

Nurses have called for wage restraint legislation known as Bill 124 to be repealed, but Jones says, “that is a conversation for another day.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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