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The Niagara Health System’s staffing shortage hit a new peak this week as they made the decision to close Fort Erie’s Urgent Care Centre at the Douglas Memorial Hospital (DMH) and deploy staff to other sites across the region. 

DMH nursing staff and physicians will be redeployed to other emergency departments across the region including Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Welland sites.

“This wave of the pandemic is beyond anything we have experienced. We have exhausted all options, and the temporary closure of the Urgent Care Centre is a measure of last resort,” read a media release from Niagara Health President and CEO, Lynn Guerriero.

Staff burnout has been a concern since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has reached new heights as we head into a fifth wave with an even more contagious variant in Omicron. While emergency rooms have managed to scrape by with minimal staff in the past, this is no longer feasible, with many healthcare staff opting to leave the profession altogether. The staffing crisis has negatively impacted hospital operations as a whole, especially with regard to patient care.

“It’s really sad that this is where we’ve ended up. The truth is, there just aren’t enough staff to be able to provide quality care at each of our sites anymore. With so many of us getting sick [and/or] experiencing mental burnout, something had to be done,” said Glorassia Fares, a registered nurse.

For Fort Erie residents, the urgent care centre closure means a 25-to-30-minute commute to the nearest emergency department. In time-sensitive situations, this poses a very serious threat. In the meantime, residents are reminded that the Port Colborne urgent care centre at 260 Sugarloaf Street remains open.

To address the growing volumes of patients needing emergency care, the Niagara Falls site has postponed all non-urgent surgeries and modified their day surgery department to provide eight additional care beds for overflow patients.

The DMH closure serves as a reminder to the entire Niagara community that emergency care services should be reserved for serious and life-threatening conditions only. Those with mild symptoms are encouraged to connect with primary care providers (in person or virtually) to discuss treatment options before presenting themselves at the emergency department.