Haldimand-Norfolk hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge

·3 min read

As COVID-19 numbers rise across the province, hospitals in Haldimand-Norfolk are planning for a surge in patients.

“At this point, the number of inpatients receiving treatment is less than five for both hospitals. But we know that can change at any moment, and we are prepared for and expecting an increase in the coming weeks,” said Kim Mullin, VP of patient care and chief nursing officer at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe and West Haldimand General Hospital in Hagersville.

The two hospitals have reportedly treated “less than 25” COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

As of Friday, there were 156 active COVID-19 cases in Haldimand-Norfolk, with 183 new cases added over the past two weeks.

While the vast majority of COVID-19 patients have recovered, provincial data compiled by the Toronto Star shows that Haldimand-Norfolk’s rate of cases per 100,000 residents rose by 67.1 between Dec. 31 and Jan. 7.

That is the fifth-largest increase in that key metric among the province’s 34 health units, suggesting that the local spread of the virus is accelerating.

Three residents have died of COVID-19 in the past month.

Were a sudden influx of COVID-19 patients to materialize, they would likely end up at Norfolk General, where all seven staffed ICU beds in the two counties are located.

“However, if we have a surge, we can increase,” said president and CEO Lucy Bonanno.

There are 11 ventilators at Norfolk General, and one in the emergency department at Haldimand War Memorial Hospital in Dunnville.

HWMH interim president and CEO Sharon Moore said her hospital has admitted 68 COVID-positive patients since the start of the pandemic, with three patients having to be transferred to other hospitals for additional care.

The Dunnville hospital does not have any ICU beds.

“Being a small hospital, we have limited capacity. So we’re working with regional partners to make sure we have capacity as needed,” Moore said.

Through membership in the Regional COVID-19 Model of Care Strategy, Haldimand-Norfolk’s hospitals can send COVID-19 patients requiring advanced care to hospitals in Hamilton, Niagara and Burlington.

“We currently have a system-wide approach in place by partnering with other hospitals and health-care providers,” Bonanno said. “These partnerships provide additional bed capacity to care for COVID-19 patients should the need arise.”

Patients who need to be treated outside Haldimand-Norfolk would be transferred back to their local hospital once their condition allowed.

Each hospital in Haldimand-Norfolk operates a COVID-19 testing centre. Taken together, the three hospitals are currently testing a total of 1,140 people each week, with the capacity to conduct more tests should the demand increase.

Bonanno urged residents to take precautions against the virus in order to ward off a wave of new infections in the region.

“Anytime we see an increase in numbers of COVID-19 in our communities is a cause for concern,” she said.

“We must continue to follow public health guidance to reduce transmission of the virus. These are challenging times for patients, their loved ones, and our hospital staff, and we are grateful to everyone for their support as we work together to respond to the pandemic.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator