Niagara Health ramps down surgeries amid ‘pressures’ with patient volumes, staff illness

Niagara Health is resorting to another roll back of surgical capacity as of April 25, 2022 citing increased 'patient volumes and staff illnesses' amid the sixth wave of the pandemic as the reason. Global News

Niagara Region’s top hospital network has begun another ramp down of surgeries due to increased “patient volumes and staff illnesses,” according to a hospital executive.

In a release on Monday afternoon, Niagara Health said the roll-back will affect a number of non-emergency procedures to free up beds for critical, acute and COVID positive patients.

“We will use the same decision-making framework that we have used in previous waves to assess each case, understanding that emergency, urgent and oncology patient surgeries will take priority,” executive vice president Linda Boich said in a statement.

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“Surgeons and the scheduling office will reach out directly to patients who are impacted by surgical postponements to rebook the procedures at the earliest opportunity.”

Surgical programs have temporarily ramped down to 70 per cent of the agency’s total capacity as of April 25 with divisions still trying to catch up on a surgical backlog created during earlier waves of the pandemic.

Read more: Hamilton ICU doctor believes his bout with COVID could’ve been worse if not for vaccines

At one point Niagara Health reported surgical activity as low as 25 per cent of normal volumes in May 2020. At the time, close to 3,000 procedures were postponed due to COVID-19.

Chief of staff Dr. Johan Viljoen said the current ramp down is to address anticipated pressures from this sixth wave of the pandemic fueled by the rise of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant.

“Our leaders are continuously evaluating our resources and recommending further actions as required,” Viljoen said in a release.

“It is important that we support our team members who are impacted by COVID-19, either by illness or their extraordinary efforts to support operations.”

The network said patients with “non-emergency” situations should seek help through primary care providers or with its Virtual Urgent Care option.

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Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Niagara Health has treated close to 2,200 patients with COVID-19 and currently has 88 with connections to the infection taking up space in its facilities as of April 26.

Seven people are in intensive care units (ICU) with COVID-19.

Last week, the hospital reported 372 staffers self-isolating for COVID-19. Close to 2,000 Niagara Health staffers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Infections, hospitalizations 'high' amid current wave according to Niagara public health

Niagara’s health’s move to roll back surgeries falls in line with concerns the region’s acting medical officer relayed during a COVID-19 update on Monday afternoon suggesting infections have been rising in recent weeks.

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Read more: Ontario COVID numbers: 1,455 people in hospital, 219 in intensive care

Hirji said an uptick in the number of acute beds occupied is “notable” and expects “to beat” the number of patients seen during the second and third waves of the pandemic.

“We’re not yet through seeing what the hospital numbers are going to do, and I expect this is going to keep going up,” Hirji said.

The top doc revealed COVID-19 in wastewater for April has moved to a “high level” across treatment plants in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Grimsby, Welland and Fort Erie, compared with what was seen during the height of the Omicron wave.

“I hope the province is right and we actually are hitting a peak and going to start to trend down,” Hirji said.

“But I don’t think we have any reliable sense in the wastewater data to show that yet. I think we need to be realistic and not necessarily overly optimistic about what we’re seeing.”

Hirji said public health indicators point to those aged 20 to 59 as the segment of Niagara’s population most affected by the current wave of infections due to a lack of vaccination and infections from kids in schools.

“Those are the groups with the least likely to have three doses of vaccines,” Hirji said.

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“Those are also age groups where they likely have children, so children going to school.”

Hirji praised the Ontario government’s decision to extend a remaining mask mandate in high-risk settings until at least June 11, but suggested the move could go farther, expanding into schools, workplaces and maybe high-risk social settings.

“I encourage the chief medical officer to extend that order to apply to more groups so we can properly protect our population by force,” Hirji said.

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