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Pembroke, Ont. hospital anticipating doctor shortages this spring and summer

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The Pembroke Regional Hospital says it is expecting longer wait times this spring and summer because of anticipated physician shortages.

The hospital shared a statement on social media asking prospective patients to be prepared to wait longer than usual this May to September.

"While there is no risk of closure of the hospital's Emergency Department, patients are being asked to prepare for longer-than-usual waits, at times, and, if appropriate, to consider alternative options for non-emergency care," it said on Facebook.

These include seeing a family physician, contacting the Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (1-844-727-6404) or going to a walk-in clinic in the west end of Ottawa.

For patients like Michael McDonald, who has had to visit Pembroke's emergency room in the past, the thought of having to wait even long is a daunting one.

"(I was) in the waiting room facing the glass. I didn't know I was being called, I didn't hear anything. I was left for over ten hours," the Pembroke resident tells CTV News.

"They're very slow to get you in. Once you see a doctor, you're fine. But you just sit there and wait. It's ridiculous."

The Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (VTAC) as created in Renfrew County to help fill the gaps for residents without a family doctor and to ease the strain on local emergency rooms.

"We're seeing about 300 people, 300 interactions every day, and this is reaching our capacity," said Mathieu Grenier, deputy chief with the Renfrew County Paramedic Service.

Community paramedics who are able to provide care for minor or acute issues, such as flu-like symptoms, as well as administer vaccinations staff the centres.

Grenier says with the extra demand expected this summer now, the paramedic service has reached out for more help.

"We have requested for the province to provide us more funding to increase capacity, and we're waiting for them to give us an answer. And with those extra physician hours we could increase our capacity towards 350 to 400 patients every day."

Anyone experiencing a medical emergency is still asked to call 9-1-1 or go to their nearest emergency department.

"We would like to thank our community for your ongoing support and we ask for your patience with staff and physicians during this exceptionally challenging time," the hospital said.

Visiting the Pembroke Hospital Tuesday, Renfrew resident Anne Andrews says she's gone out of her way to get faster care when needing to visit the ER.

"We've gone to Barry's Bay, Deep River, because you don't have the wait times that you have here, because you don't have the population. So you go somewhere where there's less people."

Staffing shortages in the region have contributed to temporary closures of some emergency departments, most notably in Almonte and Carleton Place, which each saw several closures last year.

Earlier this year, a poll of hospital staff in Ottawa and the Valley suggested many hospital workers are considering leaving the industry. Increased workload and inadequate compensation were seen as the main drivers of dissatisfaction and burnout among health-care providers. 

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