Linda Kelly, a 17-year ICU nurse at Huntsville Hospital, shares her insight


By Linda Kelly

I have been following the debates on the hospital situation in Muskoka and I would like to comment from a personal perspective.

Having worked in Huntsville’s ICU for 17 years, I have seen many changes in staffing, management and policies. I have witnessed efforts to conserve supplies and improve work environments, update essential equipment, and the ‘tightening up’ on use of bed spaces. Staff sick time, absenteeism and modified return-to-work issues have been aggressively monitored and enforced. I cannot address lay-offs, but I know some have happened at both sites.

When it comes to nursing, Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) are cheaper to employ and it seems that Registered Nursing (RN) positions, both full-time and part-time, are the first to be eliminated. To my knowledge, there are no PSWs (Personal Support Workers – think ‘Nurse’s Aides’) to assist with things like bathing, feeding, mobilizing and generally helping nurses with answering call bells and cleaning patients who are incontinent as well as feeding those patients who need help eating. If any money could be found to hire PSWs that would be a huge support to all nurses.

Family members give as much time as they possibly can. But the people whose job it is to care for these ill members of our community, 24/7, are stretched to their limits.

Nursing levels are stretched to the limit

If one staff member doesn’t show up, ill themselves or with a sick child and no other option but to stay home, it can impact the entire staffing for that shift! Also, we have just a few nurses trained for delivering babies. Not many people realize this, but if a labouring woman comes in, that RN must disperse her patient-assignments to others, and attend solely to the obstetric patient. You can give “kudos” all day long to these nurses but the fact is, ALL of our nurses are stressed to their limits, especially when any of these scenarios occur.

We all have families and bills to pay. We do LOVE our chosen profession; have no doubt. But if, for a moment, you think our nurses are overpaid, or expendable… think long and hard, again.

What will happen if we end up with one hospital situated in Bracebridge?

I’ve worked in critical care for 35 years with no regrets. But I’m worried now. Will having one hospital in Bracebridge be okay? It appears that might be where this is going. Can the labouring woman make it there in time? Can the asthmatic child hang in for the 40-minute ride? Can a trauma from a car wreck be stabilized in Huntsville, in time for surgery in Bracebridge, after a 40-minute ambulance ride? What about a burst bowel or appendicitis?

Does the hospital administration think or care about these lives?

What about all people north of Huntsville, like Kearney, South River and Sprucedale? How would this affect them?

Not willing to do nothing

Yeah, I’m very worried. But I’m just one little voice. I might even get some criticism for putting my thoughts out here. Somebody might tell me to keep my mouth shut … That’s okay. I’m not a big activist. But I’m not a sheep either!

Linda Kelly began working in the Intensive Care Unit at the Huntsville Hospital in 1998. She was born in the US Midwest and met her husband, a native of Huntsville, while in Acapulco on vacation. They married in 1998 and Linda became a Landed Immigrant. Linda calls Huntsville home and says, “I love living in Canada and I love this community.”

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  1. Hugh Mackenzie on

    This is an excellent article and I am sure that it took courage to write it. We need to deal with the apathy that seems to have overtaken the hospital and health care issues in Muskoka or we will wake up one morning to a fait acomplis!

  2. Good for you Linda! I hope you are not disciplined for speaking out.
    Nurses have been hushed for so long Healthcare has become all about cost and efficiency and satisfaction surveys that sound like it was written for the Hospitality Industry. The impact of cost savings on sick patients is downplayed as collateral damage. From being trained to care for patients as individuals with individual needs, nurses are now struggling to accomodate the “cookie cutter” approach demanded of them.Empty rooms where beds have been closed and which once held admitted patients, are now administrative offices. One only needs to view the staff parking lot on the weekend compared to a weekday to do the math.
    After 30 years, I finally burnt out while I could still look at myself in the mirror and know that I always prioritised my patients as individuals with distinct healthcare needs despite the constant pressure to conform to decisions that I personally felt were cost driven rather than what was considered to be adequate safe healthcare for our patients and our community. The entire definition of “Hospital” ”
    *an institution providing medical and surgical
    treatment and nursing care for sick or injured people*
    seems to have been lost. And the front line nurses are losing the stamina to keep fighting what we know is morally and ethically wrong as we are systematically silenced.

  3. Verda Jane Hudel on

    Thank you Linda for speaking out like so many health care workers have wanted to do but were afraid they would be disciplined. That fact goes back so many years. There no longer is such a thing as bed-side nursing. There is not enough staff to carry out what Florence Nightingale and other pioneer nurses inspired us to do. Training has made nurses into technicians who have to operate like robots due to all of the cost cuts.
    So many years of this thoughtlessness has passed that true bed-side nursing can not be understood and present day politicians can not remember. It is not up to family members to give the care.
    Shame on every person who has interfered in nursing. It is about the only profession that I can think of that has to take ten steps backwards to go forward one step.
    This is happening everywhere, not just Huntsville.
    Closing a hospital in Muskoka, or anywhere, makes no sense whatsoever for all the reasons noted by Linda as well as the fact the population is increasing and not decreasing. The health care staff is not growing with it.
    Bring back true bed-side nursing and make the patient confident while in the hospital and afterwards they are being looked after properly as there is enough well trained staff to give them the care and compassion all human beings deserve.
    Let professionally trained health care workers administer and manage health care from the bricks in the buildings to the patients and not the suits in the government tower.
    Remember the word…compassion ….politicians. If that word was understood, the present health care mess would not exist….and it is a mess.
    Thanks again Linda.

    • Patricia Looker on

      Well said, Linda, Sue and Verda Jane.
      I also have retired early / burnt out, due to lack of staffing in health care and little thought as to how much less time patients get for actual care at the bedside. I now have to speak up when my father is ill, to ensure he is given care that is appropriate for his age and condition.He is too polite to ask. I breath a sigh of relief when we can get him better and out of hospital quickly. The lack of help to bath, get out of bed, exercise, puts him further at risk to maintain his current abilities. Less money , (hospital bed days ) could be spent if we could give the care that once was. We have the technology, and medicines, but time spent at the bedside goes just as far in restoring health without further complicating the recovery process.

  4. Danielle Thompson on

    Thank you 💞 Thank you for all you do and all you have done! And thank you for standing up!! Your opinion does matter.

  5. Patricia Wood on

    I fully agree with the writer I myself was a nurse and did my student training in Huntsville emerg way back in 1978 I went to emerg here in Huntsville onTuesday night with a heart condition dont know if I would of made it to Bracebridge I was taken care of by a fantastic group of professionals. They treated me with compassion and efficiency made me feel safe and informed. I remember from my time working at this hospital it was newly built and constructed to expand they have the area the infrastructure so why would you waste the money to pick another site why to have a shinney new building none of your big universary hospitals in Toronto are new they have expanded and embraced they old with the new Its time to drop the politics and think the need of the people need for medical care Always remember from working at Sunnybrook the first hour is the most critical whether be trauma heart attack stroke

  6. Lauren MacLaren on

    Linda, I commend you and those who commented for taking the time to speak so candidly about the mess in our Ontario Healthcare, kudos. We all need to speak out to make the issues front and centre for all Ontarians. The time has come! This is a Province-wide problem with all rural and community hospitals…cuts, cuts and more cuts to front-line and support staff resulting in reduced patient care, workload issues, bed closures, and threats of private fees for service, only to name a few. I encourage your community to advocate in our Province-wide campaign to bring this critical issue to our Politicians. We have strength in numbers; our healthcare and community hospitals are at stake. Join or start your own SOS facebook group; The more media coverage, the better it can be communicated locally and Provincially with more details brought to light publicly. Hopefully your courage to speak will entice others to do the same and spread the word.

  7. It is excellent to hear the views from the front line staff. I’ve worked in healthcare administration for 40 years & these current talks of 1 vs 2 hospitals scare me. I’m worried that the political power base in Bracebridge will dominate the decision. I’ve learned that in healthcare decisions, the PATIENT is #1 & your system must treat all patients, no matter where located, equally to access, timeliness, quality & services. With so many services available in ambulatory settings, a system with 2 sites nearly identical is possible . Realize that many of our patients at our 2 sites are transported south for more complicated services. I also learned that the Physicians & Nurses are the next most important. Reducing the status of the Huntsville hospital would significantly reduce the ability to attract Physicians and Nurses. And lastly, I also learned that healthcare administrators & our officials need to listen MORE to the opinions of our Physicians & Nurses in these decisions & they s/b a major part of these decision committees.

  8. Great to hear the continuance of compassionate comments from a veteran Acute Care Nurse. When one considers what the % of acute care represents in the whole health picture, it is important to you and I, that in Muskoka, we get the components of the health care system matched to needs and mitigate gaps due to population projections and geography. It is a weighty task for which the new LHIN’s Working group, when announced, will have to assess the latter, evaluate and recommend the options to fit Muskoka and attract the right health professionals for the whole system and area here, now and into the future! The hospital (s) acute care setting is one important piece and with exceptional supports, one such example; EMS’s advanced level personnal combining road and air coverage could be a good augment to acute positioning. Other broader pieces, such as integrating local community and public health is another larger piece. All eyes and your input to this working group will truly make for a Made in Muskoka solution for the whole district and perhaps beyond. So, as in my former campaign vision, we have the opportunity “to get it right now “!

  9. I’m very pleased also to commend you for your strength of character: I use this “Comments” section (usually twice a week) to express my views with total impunity. As with your suggestions, I try to criticize constructively; but to criticize from within, as opposed to from without, takes exceptional fortitude.

    I too fear that a political solution may trump a logical one. I would far prefer a new acute services hospital in Port Sydney (with diagnostics, emergency departments, perhaps nursing home beds, etc.) at the two existing hospitals to the option of closing either. In addition to the nursing home beds, some imaginative thinking could provide income from the use of the saved space in Huntsville and Bracebridge.

    Our Town, through taxes and the charitable giving of its citizenry, cannot keep up to all the demands of the health care industry. We are presently attempting to raise $10 M to construct the new Fairvern: how ironic would it be to complete this huge initial step in our “campus of care” approach, only to find ourselves without a hospital?

    And we cannot totally blame our L.H.I.N., when the province is foot-dragging to an historical extent with respect to the Health Care Standard required under the A.O.D.A. (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), 2005. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and initiating the essential work, they are in the process of holding, not consultations, but PRE-CONSULTATIONS.

    Nero had nothing on Ms. Wynne.

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