The local side of Ontario’s healthcare problem

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The Winchester District Memorial Hospital

Headline news recently has been touting the fact that there is a healthcare problem in Ontario. Specifically, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses which is making it difficult for people to access medical care when they need it. North Dundas’ own Winchester District Memorial Hospital made headlines earlier this month when a couple from Russell shared their story with CBC News. 

Kendra Duval and her husband Ken were expecting the birth of their son at the end of November, when a chain of unfortunate events in the healthcare system created what can only be described as a nightmare. The couple had planned for Kendra to deliver their baby in Winchester, but found out amidst hours of pre-labour at home that the birthing unit in Winchester had been closed due to a lack of staff. 

A backup plan was for the couple to go to Ottawa’s Montfort hospital, but when they called to say they were on their way, they were told that Montfort no longer had the resources necessary to deliver the baby either. Ottawa’s General Hospital also did not have room, but the Queensway-Carleton Hospital – an hour away – could take them. Kendra was unsure if she could make it that long and went back to the Winchester hospital to be re-assessed, hoping ambulance transport might be possible. 

With a nurse and an ER doctor doing their best for Kendra while she waited at the Winchester hospital for next steps, an OB-GYN doctor showed up just in time to deliver the baby. A small complication with the umbilical cord was resolved, and their baby, Kayce, is now happy and healthy. 

Kendra and Ken are not blaming the Hospital or the staff for what happened. Shutting down hospital units when not enough staff are available to run them is, without a doubt, the only safe and viable option. However, childbirth is not a time when any expecting parents should have to go through the stresses that Kendra and Ken went through. 

What is causing staffing shortages in Ontario’s hospitals? Only informed speculation can address that question, with the answer likely in line with the reasons for staffing shortages across all other industries. In the specific case of healthcare, nursing staff in particular are in high demand, but many are burnt out due to years of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent labour dispute for nurses also ended in Doug Ford’s Progressive-Conservative government capping nurse’s wage increases at 1% per year, at a time when minimum wage and wages in general across many sectors have been skyrocketing. Simply put, nurses have been feeling overworked and underpaid, a reality which is not sustainable in an industry that heavily relies upon them. 

The birthing unit at Winchester District Memorial Hospital is highly esteemed, with many expecting parents from across SD&G and beyond specifically choosing to travel to Winchester as their hospital of first choice for their baby’s delivery. One can only hope that no other families will ever experience what Kendra and Ken went through, but until industry changes are made, a recurrence seems far too likely. 

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