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Waterloo Region hospitals running short on beds due to COVID-19 Omicron variant

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There are just a handful of empty beds at the three major hospitals in Waterloo Region, according to those in charge of the local institutions, which are feeling the crush of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The number of COVID-related admissions has jumped dramatically. Actually, just overnight last night, it changed from 129 to 153 patients hospitalized with COVID,” said Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener.

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She was joined by the heads of Kitchener’s Grand River Hospital and Cambridge Memorial Hospital on the region’s weekly COVID-19 update and said they are running out of beds.

“So right now at CMH, we’re at 97 per cent occupied,” CMH president Patrick Gaskin said. “That means we have six available beds to serve our community, and only one of those is an ICU bed.”

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He went on to say there are 30 patients at the hospital battling COVID-19, a number that has doubled over the past week or so.

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“According to the information I looked at at the Ontario Science Table, hospital COVID cases are doubling every eight days, meaning next Saturday, our 30 could become 60,” he noted.

“Keep in mind, we only have six beds today, only one which is in the ICU.”

It is a similar story at Grand River Hospital, where they only have 12 empty beds as of Friday morning, according to president Ron Gagnon. And across the city at St. Mary’s General Hospital, they are at full capacity, according to Fairclough.

“I’ve just reported this moment and it is fluid,” Fairclough said Friday morning.

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“We do have patients that leave hospital. We do have patients who come in the hospital. But you know, I think what Patrick’s comments accentuated is that we’re very full on most days.”

In addition to dealing with a deluge of patients due to the Omicron variant, the hospitals are also challenged by staff being affected by the virus.

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“There’s also the reality of having enough staff to operate those beds,” Gagnon said. “Physical capacity really doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have any staff.”

There are currently 600 staff members off at the three hospitals as well as Guelph General Hospital and Groves Fergus Memorial Hospital.

Fairclough says that number has doubled over the past week.

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All three say they are looking for ways to combat the expected continuing onslaught of patients from COVID-19, even though they have already added 215 new beds since the pandemic began.

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“Given we are on the ascent of this curve, we know we will see more hospitalizations in the coming weeks, so we are trying to create new ways for people to access care as well,” Fairclough said.

“Yesterday, we announced the changes to our testing and assessment centers in the region of Waterloo.”

She says the current testing options will remain available but that changes are being made to assessment centres for people with moderate symptoms.

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“Moderate symptoms is defined as someone who has had mild symptoms that are worsening, and people will be able to book directly into these clinics by phone or online next week,” she explained.

“Most patients will likely have connected with their family physician already or telehealth and then may be directed to the clinic for that care. But you will also be able to self-refer and at the time of booking, indicate the level of symptoms that you have.”

Gagnon says they are looking at other options to see patients in the future as well.

“Right now, we’re actively working on the potential to open even more capacity over the course of the next two weeks,” he said.

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One option that had been floated earlier in the pandemic was opening up a separate COVID-19 hospital in the area at RIM Park but that appears to be off the table.

“The reality is, there are still better spaces we can go into and open — if we can find the staff and the resources to do it — that are hospital-like spaces, that are a better option before we plan to move out to an arena or a sports complex,” Fairclough said.

Gagnon added: “The lead time that’s required to get these facilities up and running is three to four weeks.

“There are still some spaces that would be more typical that we would go to before we went there.”

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