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Community Update: June 2022 - Emergency Department Crisis


As we head into summer and holiday season there is an increased burden on hospitals, especially    on our emergency departments (ED). Issues that have existed for years in our healthcare system are now at crisis levels. The reasons are multiple and seem to have more of an impact on rural hospitals.

The increased burdens on EDs include:

  • Influx of people to cottages, campgrounds,
  • travelling, summer activities
  • Increased accidents due to travel or mal
  • adventure during summer activities
  • More elderly patients with age-related health issues which can be more complex, require a longer work-up and have an increased probability of being admitted to hospital.
  • Increased number of orphan patients due to
  • retiring physicians
  • People delayed seeking medical attention due to the pandemic which has resulted in more complex medical issues when they present now.

There are other reasons as well that have been expressed in news articles in the press recently.

An Ontario doctor says ERs are more stressed than  he's ever seen. Data backs it up | CBC News

CHEO reports 'gridlock' as surge in visits to ER results in long waits | Ottawa Citizen

'Granny dumping' troubles Ontario doctor who sees it most over the holidays | CBC News

Solutions to Ontario emergency room waits are found beyond hospital ERs

An Ontario doctor says ERs are more stressed than  he's ever seen. Data backs it up | CBC News Health-care workers call for government help as  burnout worsens and staff shortages increase

In addition to the increased summer burden on rural hospitals, there is a severe shortage of healthcare staff, especially in emergency departments. This includes doctors, nurses, radiology and laboratory technologists, housekeeping and dietary staff, etc.

These people have sacrificed more than most people realize to keep our EDs running. Most have young families and any increase in volume and acuity of patients presenting to the ED can have a domino effect on their personal lives as they work extra shifts, longer hours and give up vacations. The term ‘burnout’ does not fully describe the way they feel. They are physically, mentally and spiritually fatigued after stepping up month after month to maintain services for patients seeking medical attention.

Hospitals across Ontario and throughout Canada have been forced to close their emergency departments due to staff shortages.

As recent media releases across the province have suggested, this is not a hospital issue alone. This is a community issue. How the community uses the ED impacts how the ED functions. One of the biggest functions is being open 24/7 to be available to treat true emergencies.

The community can help in a number of ways

We appreciate the tremendous, ongoing support we receive from our community, which has rallied behind our hospital each time we put out a call or share a need. We are asking for your assistance once again.

Try to use the Emergency Department for the services it is designed for — not as walk-in clinic for chronic non-urgent issues, but for true emergencies: chest pains, respiratory distress, broken bones, lacerations, accidents, new neurological symptoms, uncontrolled bleeding, loss of consciousness, physical trauma, etc.

Many mild viral respiratory illnesses improve within three to five days. Do not present to the ED on your first day of symptoms unless you have difficulty breathing.

Use the most appropriate hospital for your care. Do not travel to hospitals outside your catchment area for perceived decreased wait times. This will add to the burden of ED healthcare staff. The current reality is that you will be waiting at any hospital (no matter the time of day/night) a minimum of 2 to 5 hours for non-emergent service.

If you require non-urgent care please consider:

  • If at all possible, seek medical care from your family physician. Local family physicians are being encouraged to keep and maintain same- day appoints for urgent non-emergent cases.

  • Renfrew County VTAC, which was developed locally at the beginning of the pandemic to address non-urgent medical issues to unburden the ED system. It gives you access to nurses and physicians to address issues such as non-narcotic prescription renewal, minor burns, insect bites, rashes, infections, sprains and strains.
  • Renfrew County VTAC 1-844-727-6404

  • For health advice, call the new Health Connect Ontario service at 811 or chat online with a registered nurse at Health Connect Ontario.

  • In emergency situations, call 911 as ambulances will always transport patients to the best location for care.

When you attend the hospital, please treat all healthcare staff and physicians with respect.

We understand that everyone is frustrated, tired and stressed. However, in the ED patients are triaged and treated based upon the acuity of their presentations. Wait times will be longer for non-emergent cases.

Verbal and physical aggression directed towards healthcare providers will not be tolerated.


St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH) is a 20-bed community hospital located in the village of Barry’s Bay. It serves a catchment of approximately 10,000 population dispersed over a large geographic area.

The 1,800 sq. kilometers area includes: Renfrew County, a portion of South Algonquin Township in the District of Nipissing and Algonquin Park, Hwy 60 main corridor.  SFMH's mission is "To provide high quality, patient centred healthcare in collaboration with our partners." and is commited to performance. 

hospital front

VISION:  “A Hospital Solution – A Community Solution”: A community healthcare hub that integrates all services that will not only address the unique community needs but also increase the essential critical mass and improve efficiencies in order to respond to current economic realities.

SFMH is built on foundation of Integration success: SFMH is continuously seeking strategic partnerships and solutions that will improve the organization’s efficiency and patient care across the system. In 2012, SFMH received the Small, Rural and Northern Award of Excellence recognizing its innovative leadership in establishing partnerships to expand and improve health services in the Madawaska Valley.

The governance practices and leadership exemplified by SFMH Board were instrumental in achieving integration success and effective partnerships. Key achievements are outlined below.


Renfrew Victoria Hospital (RVH)
SFMH Board established a voluntary partnership with RVH more than a decade ago. Trust, respect and effective governance as well as collaboration between the boards and the CEO are the basis for the tremendous and ongoing success of this partnership.

Outcomes & Impact on patients: Improved access for some 3,700 patients and 1200 Ontario Breast Screening Program clients to receive services locally through clinics integrated with SFMH who would otherwise need to travel to Renfrew (1 hr)  and Ottawa (2.5 hrs)

Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA) – SFMH is part of a partnership of 16 hospitals that creates the LHIN-wide integrated and standardized laboratory services. Over 12 million tests are performed annually.

Outcome/Impact: Patients benefit from enhanced quality care through improved standardization delivered seamlessly across the entire region. EORLA enables Laboratory Medicine to operate as a core business, so that decisions and resource allocations can be made in the interest of providing best-in-class Pathology and Laboratory Medicine operations.  Savings achieved from operational improvements will be re-invested in laboratory staff and leading- edge technologies.

The Ottawa Hospital
SFMH and RVH have entered into a partnership with the current 56 radiologists in the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital (Ottawa Hospital and Region Imaging Associates (OHRIA)). Outcome/Impact: Patients are benefiting from enhanced quality care and response time.

Private Physiotherapy Clinic – Due to the lack and need of physiotherapy services locally, the SFMH created a partnership with a Physiotherapy company and renovated space in its Health Center for a new clinic. Outcome/Impact: Improved access to services, reduced travel for our clients and increased revenue stream for SFMH.