As COVID-19 services are being ramped down, Kingston Health Sciences Centre is facing another crisis.
Hospital capacity is virtually maxed out, and the health-care provider is dealing with a surge in emergency room patients.
“We started the day (June 27) with a large number of admitted patients without a bed,” says Dr. David Pichora, president and CEO of KHSC.
Pichora is describing how even on a Monday morning, Kingston General Hospital’s emergency department was struggling with the influx of patients.
“The ambulance deck at KGH was completely full, with ambulances waiting to offload,” he says.
Inpatient capacity at KGH and Hotel Dieu, along with the emergency room and urgent care centre, is stretched to the maximum.
Pichora says Monday is just one example of an ongoing challenge in a health-care system stretched thin across the province.
“We have a lot of sick people coming in — a lot,” says Pichora.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming in, especially the urgent care centre but also Hotel Dieu, who feel like they don’t have anywhere else to go. They are having trouble accessing primary care or a walk-in clinic.”
Another factor that is compounding the situation is staffing.
Pichora says employees have retired or departed KHSC, and while they are currently hiring, the field is pretty thin.
“There really isn’t anybody out there,” he says.
“All the hospitals are in the same position — everybody that is available to be hired is.”
This leaves existing staff working overtime and cancelling vacations.
“Our ER staff have really been stretched,” says Pichora.
“We’ve got people who are supposed to be on vacation, who are instead coming in and doing double shifts, and they’ve been doing this for two years.”
Pichora says they have been working with community partners and Ontario Health to come up with alternatives.
“Maybe through our assessment centre, where people from the community could go to get care that doesn’t absolutely require going to the ER,” he says.
The emergency department crisis also has the head of KHSC asking for help from the public.
“If you’re really sick and it really is an emergency, you should still come or call 911,” says Pichora.
“But if this is something that could be managed in another setting, by your family doctor or a walk-in clinic, we’d really like people to do that.”