The Canadian healthcare system is “on life support” according to the Canadian Medical Association.  

Northwestern Ontario is not exempt from the current healthcare issues that caused major staff shortages and department closures at medical facilities across the country.  

The Lake of the Woods District Hospital (LWDH) in Kenora and the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) have shared with their residents that temporary Emergency Department (ED) closures will likely happen this summer due to significant physician shortages.  

Just recently, the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital (RLMCMH) narrowly avoided a 12-hour closure of its ED. They also announced that they have temporarily shut down their Obstetrics Program.  

Ray Racette, Hospital CEO for LWDH, recently participated in a media event to discuss the imminent closures and lack of staff.  

“We are getting down to the moment of truth.” 

“It’s not just here in Kenora, but we are facing this all across the country. Certainly, through Ontario and certainly every hospital with EDs in northwestern Ontario. We are all in the same situation,” said Racette about the significant staff shortages.  

Two years of living through the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to tremendous burnout among physicians, nurses and other allied healthcare workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused multiple years' worth of backlog in every aspect of the healthcare system, from yearly vaccinations to delayed appointments.  

Should the ED need to temporarily close, Racette outlined the contingency process. 

According to Racette, once the hospital is within 48 hours of the understaffed time period, they will begin to alert the media and government. From there, hospital staff will need to cover the Emergency Department signs that are along the highway, they would display on-site signage in regards to the closures, and they would begin to coordinate with other emergency services to arrange for the transport of any critically ill patients that may attempt to access services through the closure.  

“Anyone needing to be transported by Ornge or by ambulance, that will be arranged by the providers of those services. For anyone wanting to go to an ED, [Dryden and Winnipeg] would be the two closest [EDs].” 

Racette said that the reversal process will be just as challenging. 

He continued by assuring the community that anyone needing to travel interprovincially (Winnipeg), would be able to seek medical service.  

“Winnipeg is aware of our situation and in the event that we face a closure, they know that there will be some effect on them. The reality is, it is not easy for a hospital like the Dryden Regional Health Centre (DRHC) to pick up our volume because they too are facing the same situation.” 

“They are very vulnerable to closure, physicians working above and beyond to keep things open... so there isn’t any stable ED in the area that we can just shift to and that’s the reality of northwestern Ontario.” 

“Northwestern Ontario is half of Ontario and yet we only have a small number of EDs to service that area,” concluded Racette.