Why are emergency departments closing?

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Author: Diana Duong
Date: Aug. 29, 2022
From: CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal(Vol. 194, Issue 33)
Publisher: CMA Impact Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,137 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Emergency departments across Canada that have usually been open 24/7 are increasingly closing overnight and on weekends as health systems grapple with escalating nursing shortages.

But the issue goes beyond having enough bodies to fill vacancies, says Jacobi Elliott, medical director of Grandview Medical Clinic in Manitoba. "It's how you treat the bodies that is part of the issue."

Grandview Medical Clinic, along with several other emergency departments in southwestern Manitoba, suspended overnight and weekend emergency services temporarily this summer because of nursing shortages.

Many nurses have left for private agencies and part-time work, contributing to tensions with those who remain in the public system, Elliott says.

"It creates animosity because they get paid more doing agency work," Elliott says. "At our site, for example, agency nurses said they wouldn't come anymore because it was too difficult and too lean here."

Elliott notes that emergency department closures aren't always because of a lack of staff. There have been weekends when there were enough nurses and lab technicians to work, but administrators had already made the decision to reduce the hours.

"We can't help but think it's willful. I think they're trying to make the workforce go work in bigger sites," says Elliott. "They're trying to get us to migrate there, and the sad thing is, many are just going to leave health care."

Staff vacancies "three times higher" than before pandemic

Health worker shortages aren't a new problem in rural and remote communities, but even larger urban centres are experiencing acute shortfalls now.

In Ontario, Ottawa's Montfort Hospital and Carleton Place & District Memorial Hospital were among those recently forced to close emergency services temporarily over the weekend.

In British Columbia, multiple jurisdictions announced...

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