How to Sustain Emergency Health Care Services in Rural and Small Town Ontario
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The sustainability of publicly funded Canadian health care services is an ongoing debate. Timely access to services and the availability of qualified health care professionals are vital to the survival of emergency health care services in rural and small towns. One of many factors threatening sustainability is the lack of qualified professionals. The current nursing shortage and the aging nursing workforce present rural hospitals with recruitment and retention challenges that threaten the sustainability of emergency services and thus have the potential to compromise the health of Canadians living in rural communities. Health care decisions are primarily based upon economics without consideration of the diversity of rural communities. Challenges in health care delivery including access to emergency services affect Canadians living in rural communities. These challenges need to be highlighted in the context of rural health as a unique entity in order to build awareness in policy makers to ensure appropriate health care service delivery to rural communities. It is important for researchers and policy makers to recognize that rural hospitals are not mini-urban centres and thus have differing needs. This two phase study focused on the sustainability of emergency health care services in rural and small town Ontario. Using a mixed methods approach, this study explored a descriptive analysis of emergency departments in rural Ontario and concluded with in-depth case studies of three rural emergency departments with varying travel distances to tertiary care facilities. These findings have validated pre-existing frameworks and can be used to assist policy makers at all levels to develop recommendations for sustaining emergency health care services in rural Ontario including ways to recruit, train, retain, and maintain resources that are vital to the survival of rural emergency services.