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COVID-19: Hospital execs urging Hamiltonians to ‘seek out’ other options if not an emergency

Hamilton's two hospital networks continue to urge residents to seek medical care away from their facilities due to high occupancy rates and tight staffing issues amid a COVID-19 wave fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Global News

Execs from Hamilton’s two city hospital networks sent a message to residents seeking non-urgent medical care: look for other options prior to considering a visit to an emergency.

As the current COVID-19 wave fuelled by the Omicron variant rolls on, Hamilton Health Sciences’ president urged individuals with conditions that don’t require immediate medical attention to reach out to a family doctor or use an online method for care.

“There are a number of health-care options available in the community, which we would strongly encourage people to seek out prior to coming to an emergency department,” HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac said in the city’s COVID presser on Tuesday.

Read more: Announcement on Ontario COVID restrictions coming this week, official says

Both HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare reported overall occupancy rates over 100 per cent and just under 100 on Jan. 18 with full ICUs.

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“The truth is, the next few weeks at St. Joe’s will continue to be some of the most challenging we’ve experienced during the pandemic,”  Melissa Farrell, President of St. Joe’s said.

“We’re really feeling the impact of the high community transmission more than ever.”

Another recent concern is the number of patients coming into a hospital without COVID, only to discover through testing that they actually do.

Farrell said that about 60 per cent of their current 93 COVID patients actually came in because the believed they had the infection. The rest did not.

HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac revealed a just under 40 per cent of their current 217 COVID cases were admitted over suspicion of having the affliction.

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The hospitals have a combined 41 COVID patients in ICU’s as of Jan. 15. HHS has the bulk of the cases at 26.

“Unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated patients continue to make up a disproportionate number of the patients at HHS,” MacIsaac said.

“There are very high occupancy levels across our hospital system. Our ICU is completely full at 101 per cent of our funded beds.”

Ontario reported a record of 4,183 people in hospital with COVID as of Tuesday, and just over half of them were initially admitted due to virus complications, with 580 in ICUs.

Staffing also continues to be an issue with Farrell revealing that St. Joe’s has had over 700 staffers test positive for COVID.

“The situation for time sensitive, urgent and emergency care is precarious, really because of the high demand for critical care and acute care beds,” said Farrell.

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“Last week, it really felt like the issue was more connected to our health-care workers.”

Close to 170 of St. Joe’s estimated 5,700 workers are currently isolating for COVID as of Tuesday afternoon, with HHS having just over 490 of 13,000 in the same situation.

Read more: Pfizer’s COVID pill is in short supply. Should unvaccinated be prioritized?

About a third are tied to 17 ongoing hospital-related outbreaks involving 184 cases across the system as of Jan. 18. HHS has 12 surges tied to about 130 cases, while St. Joe’s has five involving 53 people.

Dr. Scott Wooder, lead physician with Hamilton’s Family Health Team, says now is not the time to go to a hospital unless one believes they’re having a heart attack, stroke or is struggling to breathe.

“For a lot of mild illnesses or mild symptoms of COVID, we can actually look after ourselves at home without any help from any doctor or nurse,” Wooder said.

“We’ve all done this for years, and nothing has changed because of COVID.”

The online option the execs recommended checking prior to a potential visits to a hospital or clinical site are needadoc.ca or urgentcareontario.ca

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Close to 1,300 COVID cases tied to 96 institutional outbreaks

Hamilton reported 96 institutional COVID-19 outbreaks are ongoing as of Tuesday with connections to around 1,270 cases.

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Close to 650 of those are tied to 40 surges in homes containing seniors including 466 at 24 long-term care homes (LTCH) and 190 in 16 retirement homes. Just over half of the estimated 650 cases are with health care workers.

Two long-term care homes are reporting a connections with about 150 of the infections — 89 at Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek and 63 with The Wellington on the Mountain.

Read more: 3,887 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID, 578 in intensive care

An outbreak in the city’s primary jail, the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, continued to grow moving from 73 to 81 day over day. Cases have essentially doubled week over week from 44 last Tuesday to 81 as of Jan. 18.

Just over 50 of the cases are tied to inmates.

The outbreak numbers potentially represent only part of the picture in the city since public health stopped reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces not tied to high-risk settings like hospitals and congregate settings.

There are six surges tied to about 130 cases in the city’s shelter system while about 180 are connected with support homes.

Three deaths tied to COVID infections — all individuals in their 70s — were added on Tuesday to the city’s two year pandemic total of 437.

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Over 80% of Hamiltonians eligible 5-plus fully vaccinated

As of Jan. 18, the city has put about 1.15 million COVID vaccine doses into arms with about 454,000 second visits and 247,000 third shots.

Over 80.9 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians aged five and up have had a pair of doses, while 86.1 per cent have gotten at least one shot.

About 86.8 per cent of residents aged 12-plus have had al least two shots, while about 89.5 per cent have had a first dose.

Read more: Canada approved Paxlovid, Pfizer’s new oral COVID pill. What you need to know

The city is still behind the provincial average, which has 88.7 per cent of those 12-plus with two doses and 91.4 per cent with a single dose.

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Third dose immunization is at 43.5 per cent — more than 5.6 million Ontarians have received a booster shot.

More than 93 per cent of those aged 60-plus in the city have had two shots, while more than 62 per cent of that age group have had a booster.

Excluding kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 12-to-24 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in the community at just over 80 per cent having had a pair of doses.

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