A spokesperson for Southern Health says reduced hours at the Ste. Anne Hospital Emergency Department will likely last through summer. However, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Denis Fortier says it is entirely possible that hours will need to shrink even further.

In early May, that Emergency Department moved from operating 24 hours a day, down to 12. Dr. Fortier says this was due to a significant shortage of physicians and by all accounts it does not sound like the situation has changed a whole lot since.

According to Dr. Fortier, the community of Ste. Anne should have about 16 or 17 physicians. He notes physicians are needed to take care of people in the hospital, the Emergency Department, to help with surgical assisting, delivering babies, taking care of people in the clinic and residents in the personal care home and then to teach medical students and residents. Dr. Fortier says at last count there were seven or eight part-time physicians and another three in the Emergency Department.

"So, quite a significant shortage," he says. 

Dr. Fortier says we have entered the time of year when physician recruitment is most likely to happen. That is because medical students have just graduated and many of them are ready to go to work in mid to late summer. 

"So we anticipate there's potential for some recruitment success this summer into the fall," he adds. "I don't know if that will be enough necessarily."

Dr. Fortier says Southern Health is also trying to be innovative and examine different models of care and funding. He explains they are in the early stages of exploring different scenarios. 

At the time when Ste. Anne Hospital's Emergency Department moved its hours to 8 am to 8 pm, Dr. Fortier said he was hopeful that this could be resolved in the coming months. Here we are, two months later, and Dr. Fortier is now saying he does not expect them to expand their hours before at least September or October, noting it is entirely possible that this could carry over into 2023. 

"I wish that wasn't the case, I hope that's not the case, but I'm being a bit realistic knowing the lay of the land out there," he comments. 

Having said that, Dr. Fortier says there is also always a chance that hours might need to be reduced even further.

"Sometimes it's just one sick call away," he notes. 

Dr. Fortier says they have been managing relatively well with only a 12-hour Emergency Department in Ste. Anne. He notes they chose a 12-hour segment that still accommodates 85 to 90 per cent of the needs of the community. 

Having said that, Dr. Fortier says this has obviously created a ripple effect at Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach. He notes the Steinbach Emergency Department is needing to take on additional cases while dealing with its own human resource challenges. In addition to that, Dr. Fortier says Emergency Departments in Steinbach and Ste. Anne are noticing a trend that is actually being felt across our province. Ant that is, the number of Emergency Department admissions, not related to COVID-19, are higher today than they were prior to the pandemic. 

"You've heard me say this time and time again, the Emergency Department is there for emergencies, it shouldn't really be used as a primary care centre, it shouldn't really be used for minor ailments and minor injuries," he stresses. 

Dr. Fortier says it would appear that people are returning to a more normal way of life, which sometimes exposes them to different risks and accidents.