ER doctor shuffle to address CCH overnight coverage, wait times

Dr. Lorne Scharf, chief of staff for the Cornwall Community Hospital, addresses the audience during the hospital's AGM on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Scharf says the hospital will be shuffling ER doctor hours to address overnight coverage. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The Cornwall Community Hospital’s chief of staff says they will be shuffling doctors’ hours in order to address late night coverage and, by extension, help reduce wait times.

Dr. Lorne Scharf presented the plan to the hospital board behind closed doors Thursday night, following an interview with Cornwall Newswatch. The matter was private because it affects individual named employees.

Scharf said this should address coverage outside daytime hours, even though a majority of their clientele comes in during the day. Typically, the hospital has 4-5 ER doctors on during the day but there are some hours where there is “solo coverage” – usually during the night.

“There’s going to be a lot less hours that we’re going to have solo coverage,” Scharf told Cornwall Newswatch. He said the ER doctors had a meeting after media coverage about the emergency department and wait times.

One of the changes would see an ER shift with a “flexible end time” at midnight. “(We would) do an assessment at midnight as to how busy the waiting room is and, if it’s very busy, keep an extra doctor on. Unfortunately that will take away during the day but we want to be able to be flexible.”

The changes will be assessed after a few months to see if it’s working.

“We’re going to be increasing our coverage into the wee hours of the morning because we find we’re coming up a bit short there.”

Scharf said it’s a challenge because the hospital has a fixed number of hours for ER doctor coverage (60 hours) in a 24 hour period.

“If you put somebody on at night then you’re losing them during the day and we really are busy during the day. There’s no way to have a solution that fixes everything,” he told CNW.

The doctor also put to bed, the suggestion people are showing up with non-urgent cases – like colds – and are clogging the system.

“It’s really not a problem. We’re happy to see those people. It’s a big myth that those people are blocking up the emerg. We can see them well. We can see them promptly. They’re the people who, unfortunately, may end up waiting if we’re dealing with heart attacks and major traumas. Those (minor) cases are quick and easy. They do not congest emergency rooms,” Scharf said.

The doctor said he would never discourage people from coming to the ER. One of the values he “holds dear to my heart” is that Canada has universal health care system and “if you want to go to the doctor at two in the morning, you can.”