Hamilton Health Sciences postponing surgeries, resuming transfers amid new ‘capacity pressures’

Hamilton Health Sciences says its current roll back of non-urgent procedures is likely last into May 2022. The network says lack of staffing and new admissions have created more capacity pressures at it's facilities. Global News

Staff shortages, COVID-19 and a rising demand for care has driven Hamilton’s largest hospital network to begin postponing surgeries and resume “medically suitable” patient transfers to other sites.

In a series of social media posts, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) said it reduced scheduled surgical activity back to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes and is using the Satellite Health Facility on King Street and St. Peter’s Hospital to reduce “capacity pressures” at its major hospitals.

“Bed occupancy at HHS is 110 per cent on average, more patients are waiting longer in our emergency departments to be admitted, and it’s taking longer for ambulances to get back on the road,” the network said in a series of Twitter posts on Thursday.

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As of Friday both of Hamilton’s hospital networks reported 442 workers isolating for COVID – a slight increase over the past week.

HHS moved from 263 absences last week to 274 as of April 29 with St. Joe’s up about 18 to 168 workers now in isolation for COVID.

HHS executive vice president and chief operating officer Sharon Pierson revealed the network is collaborating with regional partners now to balance demands across its hospitals, using agency staffing resources, and opportunities provided by their Clinical Extern program to hire third- and fourth-year students.

Last Thursday, she told staff in a town hall that the current rollback of non-urgent procedures is likely to last into May with the possibility of ramping back up to 80 per cent of capacity sometime during the next 30 days.

“Every organization is in a very similar situation, feeling very stressed and feeling the pressures of the impacts that COVID is having,” Pierson said.

“So again, our ramp-up will be very slow and it will be a very gradual process.”

Pierson also said HHS was shortening patient stays and “when it’s safe” discharging them sooner compared to pre-pandemic hospital stays.

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The network is attempting to “augment ” their “complex discharges” with community partners, like Good Shepherd and Able Living, to support patients with challenges transitioning to long-term care homes (LTCH) or community beds.

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Surgical activity in Ontario’s hospitals has fluctuated over the past two years, negatively affected by every spike created by a new wave of COVID infection.

Last week, Public Health Ontario estimated the waitlist for surgeries had grown to between 225,000 to 250,000 patients.

It’s estimated that Hamilton’s health facilities account for 15,000 outstanding surgical cases. A spokesperson says close to 8,300 are with HHS.

Hamilton reporting more COVID-related hospitalizations, outbreaks week over week

HHS epidemiologist Dr. Dominick Mertz characterized Hamilton’s current situation with COVID as “more active” with an increase in hospitalizations in the last month that appears to be lagging behind what the rest of Ontario has been facing.

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As of Friday, the city’s hospital networks had 146 COVID patients combined – an increase of 27 week over week and 100 month over month.

“When I presented two weeks ago, we were one of the outliers in the province that hadn’t seen an increase in patients with COVID in a hospital yet. This certainly changed over the last two weeks,” Mertz told HHS staff.

Ontario is reporting 1,679 people in hospital with COVID as of Friday, with 209 in intensive care.

This is down by 73 for hospitalizations and a decrease of nine for ICUs since the previous day.

Last Friday, there were 1,591 hospitalizations with 214 in the province’s ICUs. This is a 5.5 per cent increase and a 2.3 per cent decrease, respectively, to the figures this week.

Hamilton’s most recent wastewater data – tracking viral activity through local treatment plants – did suggest a decline in COVID activity in the city between April 19 and April 25, however, Mertz said the data hasn’t been as predictive as hoped in recent weeks.

“The wastewater signal … has picked up to more than twice of what we had been back in January, but hospital admissions remained at a third of what they had a peak in January,’ Mertz said.

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“So there are still question marks … to what extent it is predictive of what’s happening in hospitals.”

Hamilton Public Health

Hamilton Public Health COVID-19 Wastewater monitoring table as of April 25, 2022.

Over 350 COVID cases connected to 30 institutional outbreaks in Hamilton

Institutional outbreaks across Hamilton are up over the last seven days to 30 confirmed surges involving 354 total cases as of Friday.

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A month ago, public health reported almost half as many cases (151) connected with 16 outbreaks.

More than 198 of 250 total outbreak cases tied to surges at homes with seniors are resident infections.

The ten surges at long-term care homes in Hamilton are tied to cases among 173 residents and staff combined.

Public health reported two new COVID-related deaths — a person in their 60s and one in their 80s — over the past seven days, putting the city’s pandemic total at 542.

Hamilton has had 13 COVID-related deaths in the past 30 days, according to city data.

Over 88 per cent of Hamiltonians 12-plus fully vaccinated

More than 1.25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Hamilton as of Thursday, including about 457,000 second doses and 296,000 third shots.

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The city’s 917 average shots per day through April are up more than 127 per cent compared to March’s daily average of 404, but still distant compared to January’s average of about 4,500 shots per day.

Public Health data estimates there’s been a 20 per cent increase in vaccinations week over week with at least 8,000 doses administered in the past seven days.

Hamilton is slightly behind the provincial average in vaccinations, with Ontario reporting 93 per cent of those aged 12 and older as having at least a single dose and 91.1 per cent fully vaccinated.

Third dose immunization is at 56.5 per cent — more than 7.3 million Ontarians have received a booster shot.

Just over 88 per cent of Hamiltonians aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. First-dose coverage stands at 90.5 per cent. Third-dose immunization is at 54.5 per cent.

Fifty-three per cent of children aged five to 11 have had at least one dose of a vaccine in Hamilton, with second doses at just over 38 per cent. The numbers are on par with the provincial rates in that age group, which stand at 56.2 per cent and 35.2 per cent, respectively.

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Youth in the 12-17 age bracket represent the group with the second-lowest of the vaccination rates, according to city data. Just over 86 per cent have had a single dose, 83 per cent have had a second shot and just 15 per cent have had a third.

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