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Hamilton-area hospitals begin ‘ramp down’ of elective, non-emergency surgeries due to COVID-19

St. Joe's and Hamilton Health Sciences will begin a deferral of hospital procedures to alleviate recent spikes in COVID-19 related admissions. Don Mitchell / Global News

A number of Hamilton-area hospitals will begin reaching out to patients to reschedule elective surgeries starting Monday after an order from the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA).

The move to ‘ramp down’ all elective surgeries and non-emergency activities was announced on Friday by the OHA in order to preserve critical care capacity and staffing levels amid rising admissions tied to COVID-19 cases.

“Please understand these decisions are not made lightly. We are still facing significant challenges related to COVID-19 and the need to prepare for critically ill patients is greater than ever,” St. Joseph’s Healthcare President Melissa Farrell said in a release on Friday.

Read more: Ontario hospitals told to ‘ramp down’ all elective, non-emergency surgeries due to COVID-19

St. Joe’s, Hamilton Health Sciences and Joseph Brant in Burlington all revealed the deferral of procedures and say anyone with a postponement will be directly contacted by their healthcare provider. Patients need not contact hospitals.

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Patients are also being told to attend any appointment as scheduled if they have not been contacted about a rescheduling.

All the hospitals say patient visits will continue with current COVID-19 restrictions.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario hospitals suspending non-emergency surgeries' COVID-19: Ontario hospitals suspending non-emergency surgeries
COVID-19: Ontario hospitals suspending non-emergency surgeries – Apr 9, 2021

 

Last week, two of Hamilton hospital execs said the agencies did the best they could to handle massive backlogs that accumulated amid the first and second waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were operating at about one hundred and six percent by doing everything we possibly can to to increase that throughput,” said Farrell “We’re back down. We’ve had to ramp back down to eighty two percent of our surgical cases.”

The city’s two hospital systems have a combined 100 patients being treated for COVID-19: 65 at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) facilities and 35 at St. Joe’s.

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St. Joe’s hospitals are reporting acute care occupancy at 92 per cent as of Friday with HHS reporting 94 per cent occupancy.

In the last few weeks the hospitals say they have been redeploying staff to support high occupancy levels within’ acute care units and ICUs.

In March 2020, regional hospitals put a hold on non-essential surgical procedures to make room for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients in addition to limiting the spread of the virus by reducing traffic at facilities.

That directive was lifted in late May 2020 and some Hamilton-area and Niagara hospitals gradually resumed elective surgeries in June.

Read more: Hamilton-Niagara hospitals need time to clear backlog of non-essential surgeries

In the fall, a study from the the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested it could take more than a year and a half to clear the backlog of surgeries in Ontario hospitals caused by the pandemic.

Modelling estimated the time needed to clear surgeries was at about 84 weeks, with a target of 717 surgeries per week.

President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences Rob MacIsaac said the agency’s hospitals have also dropped surgical activities down to about 84 per cent as of last week.

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“So that 16 per cent, in theory, reveals the amount of surgery that we’re not able to get at, that we would have gotten to had it not been for COVID,” said MacIsaac.

In an effort to find opportunities to optimize non-emergency surgeries, MacIssac says a regional committee with chiefs of surgery for the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant local health networks has been set up.

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