TIMMINS -- The Timmins and District Hospital emergency ward is now back at "business as usual" capacity levels, after experiencing an overflow of patients Friday.

The hospital had to activate its "surge protocol," where it used non-traditional hospital space, such as daytime surgery areas, to treat patients from its emergency room.

Jodie Russell, the hospital’s risk management coordinator, said it’s the first "moderate surge" the hospital has dealt with in around 12 years. But even without this latest influx of patients, he said the hospital has been on a "minor surge plan" for over a year.

"This particular situation put us under a lot more pressure and because those (emergency) beds are occupied, we simply didn’t have spaces to move patients into," said Russell. "It’s really important that we continue to provide emergency services, so we move patients to areas where we can still care for them."  

Nurses up to the challenge

According to Kim Bazinet, the hospital’s emergency department manager, although TADH has filled all of its nursing vacancies, the hospital often has to appeal to its nurses to work additional shifts in order to care for all of its patients.

Luckily, she said, many nurses stepped up over the weekend and were able to manage this latest wave of patients smoothly.

"The staff in the emergency department is ‘Grade A’ staff," said Bazinet. "They challenged and struggled through it and they did a really great job."

Many of the patients were admitted due to influenza, pneumonia, slips and falls, and a general lack of family physicians and walk-in clinics in northern Ontario.

Bazinet said while many turn to the emergency department for non-urgent treatment, nurses have largely been able to manage that extra load. However, he says things get challenging when much-needed staff gets sick.

A province-wide problem

Vicky McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said understaffing is an issue faced by hospitals across the province. She says this is why the union’s been calling on the Ontario government’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to provide more funding to hospitals, so they can staff more nurses, among other necessities.

"For our hospitals today, they are filled to the rafters," said McKenna in a phone interview. "In Ontario, we have the lowest number of registered nurses, per population, in the country."

"The reality is, this is our healthcare system and this (should be) a priority," she said.

For now, the TADH has returned to a more stable capacity in its emergency department, but notes that the numbers could change at any moment.

Staff at the hospital advises the public to make sure they only seek emergency treatment for urgent conditions, which can help greatly with wait times.

Telehealth Ontario is one resource where those unsure if they require emergency treatment can turn to for advice on which avenue to take for their medical needs. The toll-free line is available 24/7 at 1-866-797-0000.