Executives from one of Hamilton’s two hospital networks reaffirmed challenges with occupancy rates in a statement this week amid an ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says their adult acute inpatient occupancy continues to exceed 100 per cent with sites reporting rates close to 120 per cent. Adult intensive care unit (ICU) capacity is also stretched exceeding 92 per cent as of Thursday.
“Unfortunately, our reality in Hamilton and across our region remains highly pressured. We’re still feeling the burden of the Omicron wave and continue to see an inordinately high demand for hospital care,” HHS said in a statement on Wednesday.
The agency says more “ideal” occupancy rates are in the neighbourhood of 85 to 95 per cent.
Individual facilities like McMaster Children’s is sitting around 100 per cent, the Juravinski 121 per cent, and the General at 109.
The situation at St. Joseph’s is similar with acute occupancy at 94 per cent as of Thursday, with ICUs over normal complement at 107 per cent.
Regional numbers across the Hamilton-Niagara-Haldimand-Brant-Burlington (HNHBB) networks cite adult acute occupancy at 105 per cent as of Wednesday and ICU capacity of around 90 per cent.
Last week, HNHBB hospitals revealed 21 patients needing 24-hour medical care were transferred to other facilities over the last three weeks. As of Thursday, that number went up again by six to 27.
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“We’ve enacted a shared approach to enabling transfers on an as-needed basis, focusing on patients who are the most medically suitable for transfer,” the HHS release said.
“Patient transfers are very challenging situations but, unfortunately, we’re left with no other option as critical care patient volumes remain high.”
On Thursday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on the Ford government to send all reinforcements — including military or Red Cross personnel — into Hamilton hospitals to maintain services under the strain of COVID cases.
“Hamilton hospitals are in crisis. They are overcrowded, people are lined up in hallways, some are being transferred out, staff are run off their feet just trying to keep up with COVID-19 admissions,” the Hamilton Centre representative said.
“The situation is so dire that Hamiltonians still can’t restart surgeries or diagnostic services, and families are worried that if they get sick or hurt, they will not get the care they urgently need.”
The press secretary from the Ministry of Health (MOH) insists the hospitals are being supported by the the GTA Hospital Incident Management System (IMS) in “real time” and that capacity and resources are monitored regularly
“Since the start of the pandemic, the province has added over 6,700 health care workers and staff to the system. We are working to add 6,000 more health care workers before the end of March 2022,” Alexandra Hilkene said in an email to Global News.
“As part of the fall preparedness plan in 2020/21, Hamilton Health Sciences received $989,000 to support operationalizing an additional 3 (Level 3) critical care beds and associated critical care staff training needs for allied health staff. St. Joseph’s Healthcare System received $1,318,500.”
HHS cautious with non-urgent surgery ramp-up
The update from HHS comes as a hold on non-urgent surgeries, to preserve Ontario’s hospital capacity in the Omicron surge, resumed this week in tandem with the lifting of public health restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.
The gradual resumption includes service like diagnostic imaging, cancer screening, scheduled ambulatory care, and non-urgent/emergent pediatric care. All other non-urgent and non-emergent services remain on hold as of Thursday.
HHS execs say they are not yet in a position to resume paused services “on a significant scale” due to the current urgent and emergent care pressures.
“Although we have initiated ramp-up planning, we will proceed very cautiously with service resumption and will coordinate our efforts across all sites and programs,” the network said.
MOH spokesperson Hilkene said HHS’ decision to continue their pause on services was within’ the scope of the ministry’s initiative and that hospitals are no required to resume immediately if unable to do so.
Combined, Hamilton’s networks recorded 224 COVID patients in the city’s hospital as of Thursday.
That’s 16 less than Tuesday’s reported 240. There are 34 in ICUs, down four from two days ago.
Ontario is reporting 2,797 people in hospital with COVID on Thursday with 541 in intensive care units.
There are close to 300 health-care workers in total between St. Joe’s and Hamilton Health Sciences that are now isolating due to a potential COVID exposure.
HHS employs just over 13,500, while St. Joe’s has about 6,000 staffers.
52 confirmed institutional outbreaks in Hamilton, 24 in facilities with seniors
Homes containing seniors represent the largest group carrying outbreak cases in Hamilton as of Feb. 3 — about 850 total cases from 24 surges.
Public health data revealed about 730 of those are tied to 16 long-term care homes (LTCH) with outbreaks.
The city’s retirement homes account for just over 120 cases from eight surges.
Five LTCHs combined make up just over 400 of the cases in homes, with Heritage Green in Stoney Creek having 115 reported cases.
More than half of all cases in homes with seniors are residents, about 380 in workers.
There are just over 230 reported COVID cases in nine Hamilton shelter outbreaks as of Thursday.
City hospitals have 10 outbreaks with only 43 cases associated with surges.
Public health recorded five more COVID-related deaths over the last two days, bringing the pandemic total to 491.
Two of the deaths were reported to have been people in their 80s, two in their 70s and one in their 30s.
Over 82% of eligible Hamiltonians fully vaccinated
As of Jan. 31, the city has put about 1.19 million COVID vaccine doses into arms with about 460,000 second doses and 271,000 third shots.
Close to 82 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians aged five and up have had a pair of doses, while 86.7 per cent have gotten at least one shot.
About 87.3 per cent of residents aged 12-plus have had at least two shots, while about 89.9 per cent have had a first dose.
The city is still behind the provincial average, which has 89.3 per cent of those 12-plus with two doses and 92 per cent with a single dose.
Excluding kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 12-to-17 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in all communities.
Just over 81 per cent have had two shots.
Hamilton is also slightly behind the provincial average in first doses for those aged 5 to 11 — 49 per cent compared to Ontario’s 53.9 per cent.
The city is on par with second doses in the age group at 19 per cent compared to the province’s 20 per cent.