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St. Joseph’s looking at how it will restart services, procedures postponed due to pandemic

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton will be slowly moving toward a new phase of pandemic management, which will include looking at re-starting some services and procedures. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

St. Joseph’s Healthcare is looking into the next phase of pandemic management, which includes bringing back procedures and services that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

That won’t be an immediate process, according to Melissa Farrell, president of St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.

Although Hamilton may have reached its peak in cases, she told Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show that their hospitals still need to maintain space for a potential surge in cases.

READ MORE: New and emerging COVID-19 outbreaks in Hamilton include St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Barton St. Jail

“We still have to be quite vigilant to ensure that we maintain some of that surge capacity, for obviously some of the blips that we can expect to see, and to support our colleagues out in the community,” said Farrell.

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She also noted that it’s not possible to immediately return to “business as usual”, and while the beginning of the pandemic saw hospitals turning off services “like a light switch”, it’s not possible to simply switch everything back on.

“We can’t do our clinics the way that we used to do clinics. You used to have 40 people in a room together that were waiting for our eye clinic, for example. We can’t do those things anymore.”

READ MORE: Hamilton hospital ‘cohorts’ COVID-19 patients to limit spread, open up beds

One major change in health care that has developed due to COVID-19 is the increased reliance on virtual health care.

In March, there were about 5,000 virtual visits to a St. Joseph’s hospital or physician — up from an average of 500 per month prior to the pandemic.

Farrell suggested that this could be used as a model of care for physicians as they begin to ramp services back up.

“Maybe the first case is in person, but the second one is virtual. So you have a time period between the patients that you’re seeing. But it’s providing that opportunity to make sure that the social distancing is still happening, and you’re still actually seeing as many people as you would have seen before.”

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As for the inevitable backlog of cases, Farrell acknowledged that it will be a challenge to figure out how to re-schedule patients in for procedures that were put on hold.

Dr. Anthony Adili, chief of surgery at St. Joseph’s, is leading the planning effort that includes assessing the needs of each individual patient and determining what kind of care would be prioritized when bringing back those services.

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Farrell said that approach is especially important as they ramp up care based on different tiers of service, with the hospitals currently sitting at “tier zero”.

“As we move into tier one, that becomes ever more important. It is absolutely true that people have been waiting, but … the surgeons, the physicians are assessing the needs of their patients and prioritizing patients based on urgency and requirements.”

“But we will not be flipping on a light switch, like some people may think, where everything will just start again. It will actually be a measured, moderate approach, thinking about the tiers, and really based on the circumstances of what’s going on within the community, what’s COVID looking like, and making sure that we continue to have surge capacity available and accessible.”

READ MORE: Pilot project to increase coronavirus testing in long-term care homes in Hamilton, Guelph, Niagara

St. Joseph’s has seen several outbreaks since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

On Friday, the organization confirmed that it’s investigating two new outbreaks involving healthcare workers – one in an inpatient unit of its West 5th Campus and another within two units at its Charlton Campus.

An outbreak was also declared earlier this month at the St. Joe’s Special Care Nursery at the Charlton site, but that was declared over on April 20. No infants tested positive in that outbreak.

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