Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC), which manages both the Huntsville and Bracebridge hospital sites, is monitoring COVID-19 cases in the region closely as it prepares to respond should the numbers start rising and patients require hospitalization.
MAHC is also actively trying to fill staff vacancies at both hospitals.
“It’s definitely been a struggle in terms of recruitment during this pandemic. Our need for health human resources has absolutely increased exponentially and we’ve been required to also increase staffing in many of our areas as well,” explained Robert Alldred-Hughes, chief executive of people, quality & safety at MAHC.
“We’re currently experiencing about a seven per cent vacancy rate, and this is nearly triple what we were experiencing pre-COVID,” said Alldred-Hughes, adding that the organization is actively recruiting for positions such as nurses and entrance monitors as well as environmental service aids and clerical staff.
“We are definitely on the recruitment bandwagon looking for great people to come join us here at MAHC,” he said.
MAHC CEO Natalie Bubela was careful to point out that staffing shortages are not unique to MAHC, but are impacting organizations across Ontario.
The problem is multifaceted, according to Alldred-Hughes. “It’s about the [staff] increases that we need to make in certain areas. It’s also about an increase in retirement during this time. It’s also related to the increase in legislated leaves of absences whether that be due to childcare or other family responsibility leaves, so there’s a number of areas that have impacted our need for staff…,” he noted, while also giving kudos to frontline staff and other individuals picking up the slack.
A lack of affordable housing is also impacting not just the hospital but other employers in the area as well, noted Bubela.
If a second wave of COVID-19 hits this area, looking at decreasing or postponing existing services and the redeployment of staff will be part of the response, explained Alldred-Hughes. “We haven’t got a solidified plan as of right now, but we are looking at that and we are working through that planning as we speak.”
Bubela explained that the organization would be following the same plan it had in place at the outset of the pandemic. “We have a pandemic plan in place that helps guide our activities. We’ve got a surge policy in place for when we get additional volumes of patients coming in. We’ve got an Incident Command Centre in place that on a daily basis would be able to assess what’s happening in the organization and recommend changes should that be required.”
Bubela said the challenge is that situationally the approach may differ based on how the virus is evolving, which cannot always be anticipated. For example, she said at this time it seems that the people who are testing positive for COVID-19 are predominantly younger people who may not necessarily require the same level of hospitalization compared to the first wave where people in long-term care, and older people in general, were impacted. “If that stays the same, they do know statistically that the hospitalization rate for that demographic is slower, but if that changes because people go outside their bubbles or somehow other people get in contact with them and they then become COVID positive… that would then change the scenario, so it’s very fluid. It really will depend on who is testing positive as to what the possible impact on hospital services might be.”
Bubela also said she is confident if the need arises that the organization will be able to turn on a dime. MAHC is going to try to avoid halting non-essential services the way hospitals did at the start of the pandemic. “We are going to try to avoid that this time so we are now looking at what that might look like and that plan is underway right now.”
Bubela explained that inpatient bed capacity is approximately 100 beds across both the Huntsville and Bracebridge hospital sites, and with an all-hands-on-deck staff redeployment, bed capacity could be scaled up by about 15 per cent.
Inpatient beds are for anyone requiring hospitalization, including a patient with COVID-19. According to Bubela, “If additional capacity were required, the regional Pandemic Response Unit [in Barrie]is a fully-functional, four-season, 70-bed field hospital that can act as a regional resource if we get a significant second wave and area hospitals face crippling capacity challenges. RVH [Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie] is working closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure the unit is operational in time to ease capacity challenges during a second wave.”
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