The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance resumed some elective surgeries Tuesday, six weeks after a provincially mandated pause on the procedures.
Last month as hospitals in hotspots such as Toronto became overwhelmed with COVID patients the province began transferring people to areas with available ICU capacity. This included Chatham-Kent where the hospital has received at least 16 patients from out of town.
The order also meant that hospitals in lesser hit areas needed to pause all non-urgent surgeries to ensure they always had enough space for transfers. In Chatham this started April 20. Now, with COVID cases and hospitalization rates dropping across the province, some procedures have resumed.
“This is tremendous news not only for the province but for us locally,” says Chatham-Kent Health Alliance President & CEO Lori Marshall after the order was rescinded last week. “It’s important for us to pursue providing surgical services to help where individuals have been waiting.”
The hospital will begin by resuming outpatient and day surgeries only. Inpatient surgeries won’t be taking place yet as hospitals are still advised to keep space clear for possible future transfers.
“We are not yet through this third wave,” says Marshall.
Hernia repairs, tonsillectomies or orthopaedic joints are some of the operations that will be first to resume. What individual order they resume in is up to the surgeons.
“They would look at all of the patients who have been referred to them and their clinical presentations and then the surgeons themselves make decisions about how best to prioritize patients based on the available blocks that they have to them,” says Marshall.
She notes cancer related surgeries have continued to go ahead during the pause.
Patients who had a surgery postponed or who have been waiting for a date can expect to hear directly from their surgeon’s office for rescheduling.
Procedures returning will be welcome news as the pause added to an already lengthy backlog of operations. Combined with two prior pauses on elective surgeries, one at the start of the pandemic and one earlier this year, Marshall says 2,400 less surgeries were performed at the hospital between March 2020 and April 2021 compared to the same timeframe the previous year.
“What we will focus on in the coming months is the wait times for procedures and it is certainly our goal within this year to be at the same place that we were pre-pandemic with respect to wait times for different procedures,” she says.
May 20 there were 11 COVID patients in hospital with just one from outside Chatham-Kent. One patient was in intensive care and one in progressive care, with nobody on a ventilator. Four staff were isolating but none of these precautions were related to the hospital’s ongoing COVID outbreak which has affected nine people.
Marshall says she’s glad to see transfer numbers drop because it means Ontario cases are going down overall and people like to be treated close to home.
Of one transfer patient, “They were very concerned when they were initially told that they were going to be transferred from the GTA to Chatham,” says Marshall. “They did not know where Chatham was.”
But, “When they were here they were very complimentary of the care and indicated that our staff and physicians are ‘angels on Earth’… when people were transferred here from elsewhere we ensured those individuals received the high quality of care that all of our patients receive,” says Marshall.
“We were also very mindful to ensure the remote visiting and virtual visiting practices that we spent time putting in place were available to individuals and their families so they could continue to remain connected,” she says.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent