Employee unions say unless hospitals in northwestern Ontario hire 150 more staff each year, emergency room wait times and staffing shortages will only continue to get worse.

Leadership with the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) raised the issue in a Zoom call with regional media members last week, saying their data is based on available data from the government and local hospitals.

CUPE and OCHU note that Kenora’s Lake of the Woods District Hospital and the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital have both warned of emergency room closures over the summer, as both hospitals report major staffing shortages and high patient volumes.

At the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, CUPE says the average wait time in the emergency room has increased by about 15 per cent between July, 2021 and July, 2022 – which is shockingly low compared to Ontario’s average ER wait time increase of 47 per cent.

Vice-President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE) and a Registered Practical Nurse, Dave Verch, says these wait times and closures will only get worse under Doug Ford and the PC government’s watch.

“So far, the provincial government has not shown the urgency or commitment to public healthcare required to develop a hospital workforce retention plan to stabilize capacity in our public hospitals,” said Verch.

“That would require them to improve working conditions in order to stop the bleeding of staff. This includes increasing wages, full-time employment and lowering workloads. Then, the number of resignations would go down and hospitals would not have to recruit so many new staff,” he adds.

CUPE notes that ambulance wait times and 911 call volumes have also been steadily increasing in the Kenora area. Across Ontario, the demand for paramedic services rose by four per cent between 2010 and 2019 – but call volume rose by 17 per cent in 2021 alone in the Kenora district.

“Our staffing levels are not keeping up with demand, which undermines patient care and causes unsustainable workloads,” explains Paramedic and President of CUPE 5911, Derek Hamilton, who is also calling for a paramedic retention plan in Northern Ontario.

Across Ontario, the two unions say the province needs to hire about 46,000 more hospital staff to address backlogs, vacancies and the growing 14.95 per cent hospital staff turnover rate.