Hospitals in eastern Ontario and Outaouais are dealing with a lengthy backlog of surgical procedures that were either postponed or cancelled to free up space and staff amid the pandemic.
About 14,000 elective surgeries were put on hold in hospitals in the Champlain local health network region. In the Outaouais, 1,150 surgical procedures were delayed according to the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSS).
Both in Ontario and the Outaouais, public health authorities were unable say when they'll be able to overcome long wait lists.
"People with cancers and other serious conditions are waiting," said Natalie Mehra, executive director of Ontario Health Coalition.
Mehra said the situation will only get worse, as the number of COVID-19 infections increases in the area.
"If there is a plan to shut down hospitals, surgeries and diagnostics again ... things can get even more gravely serious for people with other conditions waiting for treatment," said Mehra.
The number of surgeries conducted in the region has yet to return to normal due to physical distancing standards.
Operating rooms in hospitals in the greater Ottawa area have resumed to about 80 per cent of their capacity. CISSS is targeting a rate of 70 per cent, without specifying what the current rate is in its hospitals.
'Catch-up' plan and longer hours: Montfort
Marcelle Thibeault, clinical director at Montfort Hospital, said the hospital has developed a "catch-up" plan to deal with the backlog.
"We're opening our hours of operation for longer days and weekends," said Thibeault. "Some hospitals are doing blitzes to to tackle some of the longest wait times that we have."
Thibeault said some surgeries will be moved to private clinics across the region.
"I feel very comfortable with the regional planning that we have, to prepare for the next wave," said Thibeault. "We know a lot more about COVID than we did six months ago."
Nicolas Gillot, director of professional services at CISSS, said he's most concerned about a shortage of health professionals to tackle a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Gillot said hospitals throughout the Outaouais are working together to whittle down the wait list for surgeries.
Funds needed from provinces, says coalition
Mehra said it will take a financial investment from provincial governments to fix the problem.
She said hospitals are under financial strain after playing a major role in responding to the health crisis, as they took on the huge costs of treating COVID-19 patients, running assessment centres and lab tests.
"There are operating rooms in hospitals that are ... closed down permanently or closed down for weeks, or months, [or] a year because they don't have the operating funding to open them up."