SBGHC – As of press time, there were no COVID-19 patients in South Bruce Grey Health Centre hospitals, according to hospital CEO Michael Barrett.
Barrett’s report to the hospital board on Nov. 3 painted a picture of a pandemic that is “leveling out” across the province and in the local area.
To date there have been 2,407 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Grey-Bruce, an increase of 93 cases over the previous month. As of the date of the board meeting, there were 28 active cases in the local area with no hospital or long-term care outbreaks.
Testing volumes have increased considerably during September and October, averaging between 40 and 72 swabs per day. Barrett noted a new line had been added to statistical reports of assessment centre numbers since students have returned to school – pediatric percentages.
His report to the board on the fourth wave response showed the number of intensive care unit beds being used by COVID patients across the province has leveled out, after the spike in cases this past May. Barrett noted three-quarters of the COVID patients in ICU beds are unvaccinated. A large percentage of COVID patients requiring hospitalization but not ICU care are unvaccinated.
“The rate per 100,000 is much higher for the unvaccinated,” he said.
Although the situation in hospitals has stabilized, Barrett noted occupancy rates remain high right across the province.
“SBGHC sites continue to be at or above 100 per cent capacity, although occupancy pressures have eased slightly over recent weeks,” Barrett said.
Alternate level of care (ALC) patients continue to occupy over 30 per cent of the beds. (ALC patients are those who no longer require hospital care but are awaiting a placement in long-term care or another setting.)
Barrett drew attention to the fact that the most significant challenge facing hospitals in the fourth wave is a shortage of human resources, primarily in nursing and lab positions.
This situation isn’t unique to Grey-Bruce, and it’s not new, as evidenced by the reduction in emergency department hours at the Chesley hospital in 2019. That reduction is ongoing.
There are a number of factors causing staffing issues. Barrett said staff are looking for time off after being asked to work increased hours for the past 20 months. There is also the provincial and national shortage of nurses, as well as the fact SBGHC has a younger work force, meaning maternity leaves. What it means is a constant effort to ensure all shifts are covered.
“Even this weekend, there’s the conversation if we have enough,” said Barrett.
SBGHC’s vaccination policy has been under discussion lately. In response to provincial directives, SBGHC’s policy has been to require proof of full vaccination, proof of medical exemption, or completion of an education module plus antigen testing 48 hours prior to every shift. All new staff, professional staff, volunteers and students must be vaccinated.
“The really important thing is all staff are continuing to use personal protective equipment,” said Barrett.
The percentage of vaccinated staff is very high, he reported – 95 per cent of all staff and physicians are fully vaccinated, and 96 per cent have had at least one dose. That leaves 4.3 per cent who are unvaccinated.
Although other hospitals and hospital corporations have made vaccination mandatory for all staff, physicians and visitors, SBGHC hasn’t taken that step, at least, not yet.
“We’re still having that conversation,” said Barrett.
As for the Chesley emergency department, Barrett said, “We’re not in a position yet to reopen. The situation is not getting better, it’s getting worse.”
In later discussion, the question of when to update the Chesley community was raised. That will be coming back to a future board meeting. The goal continues to be full 24/7 service.
Trillium Gift of Life
Stephanie Metcalfe, interim chief nursing executive, reported that the Walkerton site became a mandatory reporting site under the Trillium Gift of Life Network Act.
She said two tissue recoveries have taken place.
Kincardine CT scanner update
SBGHC continues to move ahead with the Kincardine CT scanner project and hospital redevelopment.
The scanner has been purchased, and plans are in place to construct the addition that will house it. As soon as word is given by the ministry, work will begin. It will take an estimated six months to complete this part of the project. Bill Heikkila, board chair, and Barrett estimate the scanner will begin operation mid-2022.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times