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Ontario hospital closing health centre in Niagara region due to staff shortage


TORONTO — A hospital network in the Niagara region is shutting down one of its urgent care centres to redeploy doctors and nurses to emergency departments amid worsening staff shortages and rising COVID-19 admissions. 

Niagara Health, which runs multiple sties, said its Fort Erie, Ont., urgent care centre will temporarily close on Thursday. 

"This wave of the pandemic is beyond anything we have experienced," Lynn Guerriero, president and CEO of Niagara Health, said in a written statement. "We have exhausted all options."

Niagara Health said 354 of its staff members are currently in self-isolation, and 146 have tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 21.

A total of 104 COVID-19 patients are being treated at the hospital network and five outbreaks have been reported at its Niagara Falls and St. Catharines sites

The hospital also said it added eight additional critical care beds after it reached maximum capacity in its intensive care unit.

Bunny Alexander, chair of Niagara Health's board of directors, said the decision to close the Fort Erie site wasn't easy, but it was necessary. 

"The board of directors and senior leadership agreed that we need to take this step to address staffing shortages and maintain essential services for the high volumes of patients in our community needing emergency care," Alexander said in a written statement. 

Niagara Health advised Fort Erie residents needing care to contact their doctors, access an urgent care centre in Port Colborne, Ont., or go to the nearest emergency department. It noted that visits to its urgent care centres generally involve matters that are not life-threatening. 

Earlier this week, the province said hospitals would be ordered to pause non-urgent surgeries to free up staff to cover absences and care for the rising number of COVID-19 patients. 

Some hospitals have already had to cancel procedures and shuffle staff to deal with surging numbers of patients with the virus. 

The Bluewater Health hospital in Sarnia, Ont., said it was reopening a COVID-19 health unit as the number of patients with the virus quadrupled from seven to 31 over the last two weeks. 

The hospital had to cancel most surgeries as the number of staff on sick leave grew to five times the usual number, it said. 

"The combination of increased patients and stretched staffing is making it difficult to manage the clinical loads," hospital president and CEO Mike Lapaine and chief of staff Mike Haddad wrote in a statement. 

"We have many working double shifts and cancelling much-needed vacations."

Meanwhile, the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario on Monday said it was tackling its first COVID-19 outbreak during the pandemic and medical staff who were exposed to the virus are being tested for COVID-19 and self-isolating. It also said last week that it was  postponing non-urgent outpatient appointments in the first two weeks of January, which could affect scheduled surgeries and procedures.

Although the hospital said it was not admitting many children and youth with COVID-19, it noted that its beds were full of kids with urgent needs. 

The hospital said it has had to redeploy medical staff to provide essential pandemic response services including expanded vaccination, testing, screening and contact tracing. 

Ontario reported 2,081 people in the hospital with COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 288 patients in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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