Niagara Health provides further insight into decision to reduce urgent care hours

Starting this Wednesday, the urgent care centres in Fort Erie (pictured) and Port Colborne will shift from 24/7 operations to exclusively running from 10:00am to 8:00pm. The change is ultimately the result of a “human resources issue”, not inadequate funding. Photo credit: Google Maps


Following a torrent of backlash from residents, municipal leaders, and upper-level government officials, Niagara Health recently provided “clarification” regarding its decision to halve operational hours at its two urgent care centres in Fort Erie and Port Colborne starting this Wednesday, July 5. 

“We understand people are upset about the upcoming reduction of hours,” read a statement from the regional healthcare provider last week. “It was not an easy decision but it is necessary to ensure we can continue to provide around-the-clock emergency care to all Niagara residents.”

According to Niagara Health, the decision to shift the region’s two urgent care centres from 24/7 operations to exclusively running from 10:00am to 8:00pm throughout the week was ultimately a “health human resources issue”, not a funding issue (as suggested by local NDP MPPs Wayne Gates and Jeff Burch). 

“We simply do not have enough emergency medicine doctors to adequately operate our three Emergency Departments (EDs) and UCCs (urgent care centres),” said Niagara Health, adding that the staffing shortage goes well beyond Niagara, encompassing “the entire province and country”.

“We continue to offer financial incentives to physicians to take on more shifts but with little uptake.”

In sum, per Niagara Health, there’s just not enough doctors to go around. 

Staffing the under-utilized urgent care facilities in Fort Erie and Port Colborne takes away vital resources from the over-burdened emergency departments in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland. 

“Frankly, using our scarce, highly specialized resources to staff UCCs overnight is not efficient or effective.”

As the regional healthcare provider explained, 75 per cent of all urgent care visits take place between 10:00am and 10:00pm – the two urgent care sites see an average of only one patient every three hours overnight, yet require a full staff compliment to operate.

What’s more, the top five conditions seen by staff at the two sites are upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, ear infections, sore throats and cut fingers: all conditions “that should be treated at a doctor’s office or can now be treated by a pharmacist with their expanded scope.”

At the end of the day, according to Niagara Health, one major way to address overburdened emergency departments and urgent care centres is to “ensure every Canadian has access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner.”

“Niagara Health continues to work with community partners and government to address the shortage of physicians and comprehensive primary care in Niagara. While primary care is not traditionally the domain of hospital organizations, we are committed to ensuring Niagara residents have access to appropriate care when they need it.”

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