Emergency department back to ‘more seasonal levels’ at McMaster Childrens’ Hospital

The situation at McMaster Children's emergency department has improved over the past couple of weeks with volumes back to more seasonal levels for January. Global News

The president of McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) says emergency department volumes at the facility are slowly moving back to “more seasonal levels” following a late fall admissions surge spurred on by respiratory viruses.

Bruce Squires says the overcrowding crisis, largely created by the flu, RSV and COVID, has improved dramatically over the past couple of weeks meaning children aren’t having to wait as long during emergency visits.

“That means fewer admitted patients in the emergency department are having to wait there for a bed to open up on our floors,” Squires told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“I will say that our pediatric intensive care units, our ICU beds, are still well over 100 per cent occupancy.”

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Looking for open beds across Ontario to treat critically ill children is also a little easier but Squires says he’s not sure how long that might last with kids returning to learning facilities after the Christmas break.

“School is just back this week following the holidays, so we’re not sure whether we’re going to see another more typical winter viral surge in January and February,” Squire explained.

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The hospital’s huge backlog of postponed surgeries is still an issue and improved to only about 66 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes.

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In early December, MCH had been adjusting daily surgeries to fewer than five a week, down from the typical 15 operations or more, spurred on by the viral illness surge and staffing pressure.

At one point, the hospital reported 13 patients in 12 level three beds and 11 patients in level two ICU beds — indicating a patient considered at high risk for an adverse outcome.

The province did address some of that need via a pair of permanently funded level three beds as well as four level two beds.

However, overall occupancy at MCH reached 140 per cent.

“While we’ve gotten through this pressure point for the moment, we continue to operate in a very, very tight system which makes it difficult when we have such extreme pressures,” Squires said.

MCH has been running a cold and flu clinic since the first week of December, located on the main floor in the main lobby in the 2G Child and Youth Ambulatory clinics space.

It’s open to patients 17 and younger, Monday to Friday, from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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St. Joe’s also has a clinic offering sessions by appointment for adults and children experiencing flu, COVID-19 or cold symptoms between 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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