COVID-19 numbers are spiking and even with new beds and departments being added, some of Ontario’s largest hospitals are already running at full capacity even before flu season and the second wave hit.
Despite the addition of new beds, departments and staff members, some of Ontario’s largest hospitals were already running at near full capacity in the recent months before the COVID-19 numbers even began to rise.
Cases are higher than ever in Ontario, hitting a record-breaking number of 1,588 on Saturday, Nov. 21. This is the 17th day in a row that Ontario has logged over 1000 cases.
Hotspot regions such as the GTA, York, Ottawa and Peel were placed back in phase 2 at the beginning of the month, but numbers have increasingly got worse despite this. Doug Ford has decided that starting Monday, Nov. 23, the GTA and Peel Region will be placed into lockdown.
When COVID-19 first hit Ontario back in early March, hospitals were forced to cancel all but five percent of surgeries and shut down almost all non-essential health services. This included physical therapy, x-rays, cancer screenings, occupational therapy and other services.
Once the province began entering the phase of opening businesses and services in June, hospitals began rescheduling appointments. This has resulted in the hospitals running at almost full capacity making up for the lost time.
Cancer surgeons at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto have reported an extreme spike in the number of people coming in with aggressive cancers. They consider the increase to be an unpredicted consequence due to the closure of health services such as cancer screenings.
Also, this time of year is normally considered flu season- not CoronaVirus season. The flu normally causes around 12,200 hospitalizations across Canada every year, but since people are being encouraged to wash their hands and sanitize often, hospitals are seeing a below-average amount of flu cases. Yet, they are still there nevertheless.
Hospitals are in a state of trying to play catch up, reporting that many hospitals in Ontario are close to full capacity. Hospitals in Ottawa and the GTA are running at over capacity while smaller regions such as Sudbury, Hamilton and Peterborough are sitting around 95 per cent. The province’s maximum occupancy target is 85 per cent.
The CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, Anthony Dale has said that “An increase of COVID-19 cases right now would completely destabilize all other activities that hospitals need to be focusing on right now.” According to Ontario.ca, there are over 500 people across Ontario currently hospitalized for COVID-19.
In the last month, the government has provided 766 hospital beds in addition to the 1,349 beds that were distributed to hospitals across the province back when the pandemic first began. This is costing the government around $351 million.
Erika McKenzie is a 21-year-old medical student interning at the Royal Victoria Regional Hospital in Barrie. She said that the hospital has made some major improvements in the preparation of COVID-19 patients.
“The hospital has added an additional unit with about 60 new beds and new equipment. As a medical student I find the addition of new equipment really cool, but also terrifying thinking that we’ll need it,” said McKenzie. “We’re a big hospital so we had the means to add the department. But I’m worried about the smaller hospitals.”
Many hospitals also had to take on new staff during the first wave. This mostly included students and retirees who then left after numbers dipped, but many of the hirees have stayed on to help with the overflow of non-covid patients in recent months.
Stephanie Bromiley works at the Grand River Hospital in the Human Resource department and helped recruit new staff when the first wave hit. Over zoom interviews, Bromiley helped hire for her hospital as well as for surrounding hospitals and long term care homes.
“We hired about 500 people between April and August to help manage the additional 300 beds,” Bromiley said. “Our numbers never got low. We closed down many services that had to be opened again so we redeployed people all over the hospital. We’ve always been busy.”
Bromiley also said the Grand River Hospital is currently preparing for an additional 100 beds and on top of the staff they already have, around 80 additional staff are ready to work if the second wave worsens.
As COVID-19 numbers continue to break records, the government also continues to enforce social distancing and good hygiene. Waterloo currently has 60 positive cases and will move into the red phase as of Monday. Stay safe and stay home.