COVID-19 hospitalizations steady, but Ottawa hospitals say there's no room to spare

·3 min read
The Queensway Carleton Hospital is one of a number of local health-care institutions dealing with exhausted staff and a looming rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
The Queensway Carleton Hospital is one of a number of local health-care institutions dealing with exhausted staff and a looming rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

After nearly two years of the pandemic, Ottawa hospitals are preparing for yet another potential surge in COVID-19 cases — while acknowledging it will be hard to expand services with so many tired, weary staff.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Table has warned that in the worst-case scenario, the Omicron variant could push the province's intensive care units to the brink by the beginning of 2022.

Bernard Leduc, president and CEO of the Montfort Hospital, said Ontario Health is already providing direction that the post-Christmas increase in procedures may have to be deferred if that's the case.

"There's no big extra capacity right now," Leduc said. "If we have to move forward and do more, we'll have to stop doing other things. So care [is] definitively at risk."

The greatest strain on the system right now, Leduc said, is the fact employees have spent months working overtime in response to the pandemic.

'We've given enough'

"Every time there's a wave coming in, there's a sense of — I won't say despair — but it's a sense of, 'We've given enough already, can't we have a break?"

So far, Leduc said, hospitalizations have been stable even as cases have dramatically increased. There were three COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ottawa on Friday and none in the ICU.

However, staff are having to isolate at home more often, Leduc said, because of direct or high-risk contact with COVID-19 cases.

"Whatever is happening in the transmission in the community has an impact on the availability of staff in the hospital," Leduc said.

That's why it's important to follow public health guidelines and get booster shots, he added.

Jérôme Bergeron/Radio-Canada
Jérôme Bergeron/Radio-Canada

Queensway Carleton also worried about burnout

Keeping the new variant in check will allow the Queensway Carleton Hospital to keep performing cancer surgeries and other essential procedures, said Lianne Learmonth, clinical director at the west-end hospital.

"Our surgery program is not back up to 100 percent of where we were pre-pandemic. A lot of that is based on staffing capabilities," Learmonth said.

She said the hospital has been hiring additional staff and providing support so that exhausted doctors and nurses can try to recharge over the holidays.

"We're definitely worried about the burnout and the downstream effects with our staff. They are tired. So we need to continue to support them," Learmonth said.

The hospital is occupying two converted floors of the Fairfield Hotel and has added five beds to its ICU. And while five more ICU beds could open up by February, the ward is being filled up by admissions unrelated to COVID-19, Learmoth said.

"We don't have any more spaces [right now] to open up beds in the organization. We've used every space we can," Learmonth said.

Some patients have been moved to long-term care and supported community living in the last month to alleviate the pressure on hospital beds, she said.

In a statement, The Ottawa Hospital said it currently has no plans to reduce surgical or clinical activity due to COVID-19.

The hospital said it's managing staffing levels to ensure it can keep providing care to everyone who needs it, and will work with its regional partners if COVID-19 numbers change.

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