Staffing Remote Communities in Ontario

long-term care

Why long-term care homes are turning to staffing agencies

Staffing of healthcare facilities can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Throw in shortages in the workforce and a pandemic to top it off, and you have yourself a very difficult working environment, to say the least. The remote areas of our province are in desperate need for healthcare help from fellow practitioners. Nursing in remote areas is undeniably demanding; however, it also offers great potential for personal and professional growth and a forever-rewarding experience. Access to healthcare is not at all fair or simple for those who reside in the most obscure corners of our province. It is in our hands to ensure adequate and equitable healthcare is available for all Canadians, rather than for just our immediate neighbours. For this to happen, the shortage in healthcare practitioners across the province must first be identified and addressed through strategic staffing models that fails not to protect from the exploitation of our front-line workers. In their desperate need, provinces are finding motivating ways to recruit and preserve the country’s most equipped healthcare personnel, including the use of incentives and staffing agencies, as they continue dealing with the unique situations that remote healthcare brings.

The Problem

There are evidently, pre-existing problems in healthcare for remote areas throughout Canada, mainly relating to access, resources and staffing, specifically in dispersed provinces. Unfortunately, access to fair healthcare is not standard across the province of Ontario, which has its greatest effects on those who are living in the northern and most remote regions. Scattered locations, ranges in service and facility size are among the characteristics that greatly affect access to healthcare for Ontarians. The healthcare facilities that do exist, are typically few and far apart in these regions, meaning patients will often travel great lengths to seek the proper care they need.

Specifically, long-term care is difficult to find in remote communities, often imposing stress on families who struggle to find adequate support for their loved one. It is no secret that the Canadian population is continuing to age, which means the number of elderly people is consistently growing; the pressure to offer proper care and support the elderly populations within their home communities is becoming more significant every year.

With few hospitals and healthcare facilities around for access, there are inevitably fewer services available and a limited number of health practitioners offering them. It is common for rural and remote facilities to experience a higher turnover rate of practicing physicians and nurses as a result of difficult work conditions. To work in one of these facilities often means extensive working ours, a small staff to disperse the workload across, a lack of continuing and additional education – of which is often mandatory, and limited opportunities for the families of practitioners.

As if that all wasn’t creating enough pressure on Ontario’s healthcare system, due to recent devolution, remote communities have been left to deal with the increasingly acute health problems of those who have been refused extensive healthcare in hospitals and often discharged too early. Unreasonable demands have been refocused on the community-based health facilities that were already facing strain in their systems.

The Effects of COVID-19

It would be an understatement to say that hospitals and other care facilities across the country were understaffed as it was, prior to COVID-19 spreading into Canada. Earlier in the year, Canada was already experiencing significant staffing shortages for nurses, physicians and personal support workers (see our April 2020 blog), so the arrival of COVID-19 has only put more emphasis on the evident gap in staffing. On top of that, the remote communities of Ontario are increasingly older with a higher rate of chronic disease than other parts of the country, putting them at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and contributing to a serious viral outbreak.

When the novel coronavirus first began spreading through Canada, hospitals in remote Ontario were concerned about their ability to fight off the virus given their limited resources and rural locations; they knew the virus would be the ultimate test of their capabilities. For many facilities, the biggest fears were in the possibility of not having the ability to treat all the patients sick with COVID-19, especially for those with little respiratory equipment; just a few cases of the virus could uproot the entire system of a small hospital.

Unlike healthcare facilities in large, urban centres, rural hospitals have a much smaller staff, who are already spread thin across duties without a virus like COVID-19 making its way through the hospital. It is not at all uncommon for physicians in small hospitals to be in charge of the care of over 40 patients at one time. Additional concerns lie in the fact that amidst even the worst of the pandemic, regular patients will still require regular care from the same physicians and nurses that would be tasked with saving the lives of those who had contracted the virus. With the pre-existing shortage of staff, little to none hospitals could spare doctors for aid in other communities. The risk and fears of exposure to COVID-19 has also created difficulty in finding willing and dedicated staff.

To date, COVID-19 has been the most devastating for nursing and retirement homes within Canada, more so than any other setting. As of the beginning of April, the virus has intruded upon more than 600 care facilities across Canada. Unfortunately, the facilities of Ontario received very little guidance about the virus from the province. Eventually, the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians requested, among many things, for the creation of “rapid rural relief teams” consisting of medical specials that would be properly equipped and trained to be deployed to remote communities whenever needed.


At HealthOPM, we are dedicated to providing the best work environments for the health practitioners of our province, while contributing to the best facility care in the country. Our healthcare staffing agency is equipped to help Ontario’s most strained facilities find the practitioners they need to continue offering the highest level of care for their patients.

Author: Oge George

Oge George, Founder & COO of HealthOPM, Author, Talent Management Professional (CTMP)

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