More serious ailments leads to longer hospital stays

·4 min read

Sicker patients are leading to longer wait times at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.

According to Cane Suni, the hospital’s vice-president of clinical programs and operations, pandemic-related delays in care have led to more acute illness in patients, necessitating longer hospital stays.

At a recent hospital media briefing, Suni said the slowdown is not unique to Chatham-Kent as the same situation is occurring across Ontario and the rest of Canada.

Earlier this month, it prompted the CKHA to issue a public service announcement encouraging people to stay away from the emergency room unless their condition was a true emergency.

There is less room at the hospital, Suni said. The increased severity of illness developed in part because COVID-19 protocols restricted access to health-care services, delaying disease diagnosis and treatments.

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicates some 560,000 fewer surgeries were conducted in Canada between March 2020 and June 2021.

Many surgical delays were experienced at CKHA throughout 2020 and 2021, however officials report local rates are heading back to 2019 levels.

In fact, with regard to returning to normal surgical levels, CKHA was ahead of anticipated targets in April and May, with some of the shorter waiting times in Ontario.

“We are moving in the right direction, but there remains work to be done to continue decreasing the total number of patients who are waiting longer than they should,” Suni explained.

“We continue to carefully monitor our program and improve access to surgical services at CKHA. Our goals are to continue to decrease the number of patients waiting over target (time) and to continue to perform at capacity post COVID-19.”


Recruitment efforts at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance are bearing fruit.

The hospital recently announced it is welcoming a new equity, diversity and inclusivity lead in July.

Naty Ramirez Reyes will take on the executive role to manage initiatives at the hospital that support a working climate valuing and prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusiveness.

Ramirez Reyes holds a degree in social work and an honour degree in sociology.

Her training has prepared her to engage in system level advocacy and to support and maintain large-scale change, hospital officials said.

Ramirez Reyes most recently held the position of director of services with St. Clair Child and Youth Services, where she helped deliver mental health services to children and youth in Sarnia-Lambton.

She regularly engaged in system advocacy to address the disparity in existing child and youth mental health and addiction services.

Ramirez Reyes takes on her new role July 11.


The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is also adding to its complement of nurses and PSWs.

According to Meredith Whitehead, head of transformation and CNE at the alliance, 15 nursing students who did a co-operative education rotation at the hospital have opted to join the hospital full-time when they complete their education.

At a recent media briefing Whitehead said that amounted to 88 per cent of the nursing students who did a placement at CKHA.

As well, she said, the hospital has been successful in recruiting personal support workers under the extern program, hiring a number of PSWs under the process. More of those positions are still available.


Like other Ontario health-care agencies, the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is scaling back its reporting of COVID-19.

As of June 6, only seven people were hospitalized with the virus, however none of the patients were being treated primarily for COVID-19.

The change in policy comes as the number of cases across the province declines; however, hospital CEO Lori Marshall said officials will be keeping an eye on the situation and will increase reporting if warranted.


Chatham-Kent Health Alliance has a new procedure in its health-care repertoire.

Recently, the surgical team led by Dr. Hans Hundt completed the first-ever total ankle replacement procedure in the hospital’s history.

The medical milestone, performed on former police officer Ron Houston, who was experiencing extreme pain when walking, something he loved to do to keep fit.

Being able to do complete ankle replacements close to home is critical for local residents, Hundt said in a new YouTube video outlining the process.

Hundt said going out of town for surgery, especially for those forced to go to the GTA, creates a “big burden” for the patient, their families and caregivers.

“To be able to offer those things here and in Chatham is of utmost importance,” the doctor said.

When he recovers, fitness enthusiast Houston said he can’t wait to get out walking in Chatham-Kent and Essex County.

“I’ll be putting a lot of kilometres on,” Houston said.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice

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