Some surgeries and services are being scaled down at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC).
Hospital officials say it’s to ensure there’s enough hospital capacity for COVID patients and to address the impact the Omicron variant is having on staffing.
“The province is very worried I can tell you they’re very worried,” says KHSC president and CEO Dr. David Pichora.
This worry has led to school and business closures, along with capacity and gathering restrictions in an effort to slow the pace of the Omicron variant spread.
Dr. Doris Grinspun, head of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), says these measures should have happened earlier.
“Step two should have happened on Dec. 10 if we wanted to spread (out) the virus transmission more,” Grinspun says.
Hospitals across the province, including KHSC, are ramping down non-urgent surgical activity to maintain bed capacity and staffing that has been seriously impacted by Omicron.
“Our teams are tired,” says Pichora. “It’s been a long two years and, like lots of other places, we’ve had retirements and other departures lately, partly as a consequence of the pandemic.”
Pichora says there are around 70 to 80 staff off work for COVID-related reasons.
Dr. Gerald Evans says, looking at modelling, the province could be dealing with increasing COVID-19 cases for another two to four weeks.
But locally, the region may be a little ahead because Omicron hit here first.
“We are, I think, starting to show some — what looks like encouraging, I’ll just say — information that would suggest that we may have already peaked,” says Dr. Evans.
But there is a lag between case reductions and hospitalizations.
“So we’re not seeing the full impact on hospitals yet, but the numbers across the province are going up really fast for hospital admissions,” says Pichora.
This has KHSC working to build bed capacity, and looking to community partners to address staffing challenges.
“Right now, all of our beds are not staffed,” says Pichora. “So we’re looking at different ways of staffing that and who we might bring in from the community to help us look after some of the pressures, because we want to take full advantage of our KGH and Hotel Dieu beds.”
Pichora says there are no immediate plans to open the former St. Mary’s of the Lake site as a field hospital, but it has been part of discussions and planning.
“Providence Care has opened some beds there already, but for us collectively to open up the rest of their beds as well as our field hospital would take more work from the staffing side,” Pichora says.
Dr. Evans expects COVID-19 hospitalizations will continue to rise locally for another week or two before they begin to level off.