The clinical director of the emergency department at the Queensway Carleton Hospital insists the hospital in Ottawa's west end is being "more creative" with its staffing models to care for patients and keep the emergency department open this summer.

However, Brian Smith warns it could take up to five to six years to repair the critical staffing shortages that are currently hitting hospitals in Ottawa and across Ontario.

"It's a very critical state right now, I would say for our hospital and other hospitals," Smith told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.

"The staff – they are tired, it's been a long two-and-a-half years, very busy workload, we're into wave seven of COVID. We have the staff shortages, sicker patients that are coming in and it is a culmination of everything, and having less workforce has made us be more creative in terms of keeping the doors open to the emergency department and seeing those patients that need to be seen by a physician right away."

Shauna Thompson waited six hours at the Queensway Carleton Hospital emergency department while suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, but went home without seeing a doctor.

"I was expecting a wait, but I was not expecting such a long wait. And at the end of it still not have seen a doctor," Thompson told CTV News Ottawa. "That's what scares me. People say we're heading towards a crisis. We are in it."

The Queensway Carleton Hospital concedes wait times have exceeded 12 hours for some patients in the emergency department.

"Wait times are dependent on the reason the patient is coming to the ED for care. Life-threatening conditions are always prioritized. That said, unfortunately, some patients have waited over 13 hours for care," QCH said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

The Queensway Carleton Hospital was seeing 200 to 220 patients a day in the emergency department in August 2021.

"It's common now to see 250, sometimes 260 patients, but also a lot higher ambulance traffic as well," Smith said.

Sonya Bolestridge waited 12 hours in the emergency department, before the pandemic started.

"I waited well over four hours. And then by the time they did all the tests, the exams and everything, they noticed it was a ruptured ovarian cyst," Bolestridge said.

Smith says the Queensway Carleton Hospital is "chugging on" with some innovations over the past year to address staffing challenges and treat patients.

"We've hired students that are in health care programs to come and assist the nurses in the department and throughout the hospital. We've also had students that are just finishing their programs coming in as well and using it as a bit of a recruitment strategy so that they can come and see the environment at the Queensway," Smith says.

"We've used practical nurses, which have just a smaller scope of practice than what would a registered nurse is, to fill shifts."

The Ottawa Paramedic Service is placing a paramedic in the emergency department at the Queensway Carleton Hospital to care for patients dropped off by paramedic crews, allowing ambulances to return to service.

The Ottawa Hospital says COVID-19 is still affecting staffing levels in its emergency departments at the Civic Campus and General Campus, and it's taking steps to address the staffing "challenges."

"Periodic COVID outbreaks continue to have an impact on available ED staff resources. We will continue adapting as needed to address these staffing challenges, and ensure that patients receive the care they need," TOH said in a statement.

Smith says there are no "simple answers" to fix the staffing shortages in the emergency department and across all hospital departments.

"Definitely, we need the universities and colleges to start to put out these health professions and focus on getting nurses into their careers. Things like planning, investments – nurses and health care workers they want work-life balance, so that's an important piece, as well as a positive work environment," Smith said Thursday afternoon.

"Getting out of this; this isn't something that by spring or fall of next year we're going to be out of this. This is something that we're going to be faced with for three-to-four years for sure, maybe even five-to-six years."

Bolestridge has advice for anyone needing to visit an emergency department in Ottawa.

"Go there as your last resort," Bolestridge said. "If you can go to a walk-in clinic, yah you’ll wait two or three hours, but it’s better to go to walk-in clinics and let them tell you if you need to go to emergency."