Hundreds of surgeries in Cornwall, Ont., are being put on hold once again as rising numbers of COVID-19 patients have forced the city's hospital to close operating rooms.
In a release issued Wednesday, officials with the Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) said only life-threatening cancer cases and other high-priority surgeries will go ahead over the coming weeks.
"We are doing this to ourselves for self-preservation of the hospital," said Dr. Garry Weinberg, chief of surgery at CCH.
Weinberg said postponing non-urgent surgeries will allow the hospital to reserve beds and resources for emergency cases as more and more COVID-19 patients need to be hospitalized.
Cornwall has some of the highest positivity rates and the lowest vaccination rates in Ontario. Just 69 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated in some neighbourhoods.
"Unfortunately, it's the surgeries and the patients who need those surgeries that are taking the hit for the community," said Weinberg.
Lowest vaccine rates in province
According to Weinberg, the hospital, which was already over capacity in September, is now "much beyond that."
There are 19 COVID-19 patients in hospital right now, 13 of which require intensive care. More than half of all cases at CCH are unvaccinated.
The issue, Weinberg said, is that COVID-19 cases require longer hospital stays than the average patient. While common problems can be stabilized within two to five days, COVID-19 patients take roughly two weeks on average from admission to discharge, a lack of flow that "cannot continue," Weinberg said.
"We simply could not continue running the OR if there's no place to put patients post-operatively," he said.
Many nurses and health-care staff at the hospital are also burned out, sick, or redeployed to other units, Weinberg said.
Outbreaks in Cornwall are also preventing the safe transfer of a large number of patients in hospital beds to community care facilities, many of which are also struggling with staffing shortages, according to hospital officials.
Situation could have been avoided, say officials
This is the third time in the last 18 months that surgeries have been rescheduled at the hospital. Twice before it was because of provincially mandated shutdowns, but this is the first time CCH has chosen to postpone its own surgeries.
"That's very disheartening to have to tell patients that," Weinberg said.
Both Weinberg and Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said the current situation could mostly have been avoided if more locals got vaccinated.
"Not only will that [unvaccinated] individual, you know, have higher rates of complications, including hospitalization and ICU admission, but [unvaccinated people] will also overwhelm our health-care services," Roumeliotis said during a media briefing Wednesday.
Affected patients with scheduled surgeries in the coming days will be contacted by CCH staff. Weinberg said the aim is to return to a normal operating schedule in two weeks.