The Regional Medical Lead for Southern Health-Sante Sud is cautiously optimistic that Altona's emergency department will resume services 12 hours a day, 7 days a week later this fall. The department's hours were scaled back to 12 hours a day, 3 days a week in June when the community lost three of its five physicians.
Since then, two internationally trained physicians have joined the local ranks.
"That doesn't fully replaced the three that we lost, but it is still a significant improvement in what we were facing in the early part of summer," said Dr. Denis Fortier.
He notes, the Altona ER is one of many in the province that experienced reduced hours this summer due to staffing shortages.
Once these new physicians are trained up and feeling comfortable in their new positions, the expectation is that the 12 hour a day, 7 days a week service will resume effective October 31st. Until then, reduced ED services will remain at 3 days a week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) 12-hour days.
"I have a general feeling of optimism and I'm always a little worried about what's around the corner because we just never know, but at this point in time we are cautiously optimistic," added Fortier. "I think our nursing staff is fairly secure at this point in time. We don't have a full compliment of physicians, we are probably short at least one, but we do believe that with four physicians we should be able to see an expansion of hours."
The search to recruit fifth physician for the community continues, with efforts between Southern Health-Sante Sud and local stakeholders. Dr. Fortier notes, this work is happening in every community across the region.
"We are always searching," he said. "Again, Altona is not alone. We are having to do this strategizing in absolutely every community across our region. It is the most challenging physician shortage I've seen in thirty years, that's across the region, the province and even nationally."
Contributing, in part, to this shortage noted Dr. Fortier, is an aging workforce.
"We knew there was a significant amount of Baby Boomers who were set to retire any time soon, many of them had chosen not to and yet the pandemic has, I think, had people re-look at their priorities in life. And so, many many have decided at the same time to choose to leave."
The other factor, added Dr. Fortier, is that the shortage is being felt across Canada forcing health authorities to all vie for the same limited resources that are available.
"We're really trying to do the best we can, and offer the most service that we can with the limited resources. But we also have to be mindful to protect those precious resources that we have and not ask them to do so much more that we break peoples' backs in the process," he said.