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Improving hospital ER Services in rural and northern areas?

Under the title of "Improving ER Services In Rural And Northern Ontario," the provincial government has asked "a group of leading health care experts to examine and develop recommendations for improving emergency services in small and rural communities."

The new "Emergency Room Task Force" will develop recommendations for emergency rooms in rural and northern areas to adapt to staffing challenges. The government notes:  "minor staffing challenges -- a doctor's unforeseen family emergency or a nurse's unexpected illness, for example -- can impact a hospital's emergency services."

The Task Force is certainly high powered: six of the fourteen panel members are either Ministry or LHIN leaders, including two Assistant Deputy Ministers.  The Task Force is supposed to submit a final report to the government in the spring.

The government claims that "there have been no unplanned ER closures in Ontario since 2003." What it doesn't say is that there has been plenty of planned ER closures.

Resolving legitimate staffing issues in smaller hospital ERs would certainly be very helpful -- no one doubts these problems exist.

But will the report edge into bigger questions of where ERs should or should not exist?  The government's record on shutting down smaller ERs makes me hope they stay away from that issue.  And given that the report is due before the election, I am betting they will stay on the more positive track of solving ER human resource problems.  If they do that, it really will be an accomplishment. 

 dallan@cupe.ca

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