SBGHC – The third wave of COVID-19 has impacted a lot at local hospitals, according to Michael Barrett, South Bruce Grey Health Centre CEO.
“For the past 14 months, everyone has worked hard and been asked to do more in wave three than ever before,” he said. This includes deferring vacations.
In presenting his report to the hospital’s board of directors on May 5, Barrett outlined the local situation, and touched on some of the provincewide measures to control the pandemic’s third wave and how they are affecting local hospital operations.
“The third wave is considerably different from the previous two waves,” he said, “and the impact on the Ontario hospital system has been significant.”
Unlike the first two waves, the province is experiencing persistent and increasing pressure on critical care capacity across the province.
“Maintaining hospital services has been much more challenging,” said Barrett.
He said numbers from January show 415 COVID patients in ICUs across the province; the last week in April it was just under 900.
This has resulted in patients being moved from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where hospitals have reached their limit, to other parts of the province where there is still capacity. Barrett said hospitals across southwestern Ontario have been asked to receive over 200 patients from the GTA, and Grey-Bruce hospitals have also received patients from Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.
All hospitals were directed to cease non-emergency and non-urgent surgeries as of April 19 to ensure the health system can continue to meet the needs of critically ill patients. This will free up staff to care for patients in ICU and acute care patients.
“We need to ensure hospitals don’t become overwhelmed,” said Barrett.
It isn’t only patients who are moving throughout the hospital system. There’s been a request for redeployment of staff and physicians.
SBGHC, which has no ICU, has redeployed four nurses to Grey Bruce Health Services in Owen Sound, where the ICU is located.
“These are nurses with ICU experience,” Barrett said.
The province is compiling a list of staff and nurses who’d be willing to redeploy to high-need areas.
In later discussion, the board was told these people who temporarily go to hospitals elsewhere in the area and province remain part of SBGHC.
Barrett said regular meetings are being held regionally to discuss patient movement and flow.
Another measure has been taken to free up beds – the emergency order to remove consent requirements for patients who have been designated as alternate level of care (ALC). These patients have completed active treatment and require care in another setting, usually a long-term care facility. Barrett said that to date, none have been moved under this order, but “the tool is there.”
Board member Mike Bagshaw asked Barrett a question that’s on a lot of minds.
“How are our people doing?”
Barrett said they’re not under as much stress as hospital staff and nurses in the GTA, but “they’re all pushed to the limit.”
He noted the system is being damaged – cancelled surgeries, for example – for the greater good.
“We need to find every way we can to support our staff, and get back to a high level of performance,” said Barrett.
He added in a later interview, “It will take a long time to get back on track.” This includes bringing visitors back “in a safe way.”
Barrett said, “There’s no quick fix.”
He said he has “great faith that our staff will rebound and continue to provide a high quality of care to our communities. Administration needs to support them to ensure that happens.”
Everything possible is being done to bolster staff morale and help them deal with the challenges they’re facing. One tool that’s proved very effective is a regular “town hall” virtual meeting every Thursday. It’s a way for staff to get answers right away and to share information.
In other hospital news
• Approximately 86 per cent of SBGHC staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Said Barrett, “There’s good staff uptake.” All four hospital sites are at over 80 per cent.
• The reopening of the emergency department at the Chesley site remains the goal of the board of directors. There’s a meeting scheduled with health ministry officials on the joint proposal for a sustainable reopening submitted for the Chesley and Clinton hospitals.
• The public meeting on the reopening of the Chesley emergency department, originally scheduled for this month, has been postponed because of COVID.
• Efforts continue to ensure nursing students at SBGHC hospitals transition into regular positions at those hospitals. “We want to keep our arms wrapped around them,” said chief nursing executive Angela Stanley. Board member John Haggarty made a motion, which carried, to present certificates of thanks to nursing students working at SBGHC sites. The students have taken on additional duties, and have been instrumental in manning the “surge beds.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times