Unvaccinated causing CKHA to be overwhelmed

·4 min read

The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is feeling the effects of COVID-19.

According to Lauri Marshall, President and CEO of Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, the unvaccinated are currently the biggest burden to the healthcare system.

She said Chatham-Kent’s hospital group is still coping with capacity issues in its critical care beds that are directly linked to unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.

According to Marshall, nine of the 10 people are in critical care beds – six in intensive care and four in progressive care – are not vaccinated. She added that the five ventilated patients in intensive care are all unvaccinated.

She reported the hospital in Chatham has 33 COVID-19 patients as of Jan. 6. Six are in the ICU, and four are in the critical care unit. Marshall added that the ICU is 90 percent full.

Marshall added that the virus has also impacted staff numbers.

Currently, 24 staff members have tested positive for the virus, while 54 have symptoms but are waiting for test results. She added that 45 are “work-isolating” and can come to work but must go straight home afterwards, and three are working from home.

The two hospitals in Chatham-Kent have a total complement of 1,400 staff. CKHA is reporting 126 hospital staff are being impacted by COVID-19.

“Absolutely, I am worried that the capacity will become an issue for every single hospital in the province and not just us,” said Marshall.

Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health, echoed Marshall’s statement. He said he is worried people who were dismissive of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic will be more dismissive because of reports that the Omicron variant is milder.

“All I can say is thank goodness that it is milder, or else our healthcare system would collapse,” said Colby. “The game changed with Omicron. Everything changed.”

Colby said unvaccinated patients “are over-represented in the hospitalized population, the ICU population and, sadly, in the population that has suffered mortality from COVID.”

Marshall agreed, adding that patients requiring ventilation and critical care support are “going to have a long length of stay.”

Despite the recent surge in cases across Ontario and other challenges that have risen amid the Omicron-driven fourth wave, Marshall said the health alliance has no plans to re-establish a field hospital.

“The major reason would be, at the point when we mounted the field hospital initially in wave one, we did not see the significant impact to staff being ill at that time or potentially being impacted and out,” said Marshall.

She highlighted the fact that more staff is needed if services are spread among several facilities, making a field hospital a strain on existing staff. Marshall said the plan at this point is to focus on “maximizing the supports to our beds in the hospital.”

“The more you spread out your services, the more staff you need to do that because it’s not just the actual care of the patient, it’s also the logistics of feeding those patients, getting food and supplies there, splitting up your equipment,” said Marshall.

She added that the health alliance continues to actively recruit for its high need areas through many strategies.

“A number of strategies are put to use such as utilizing the nursing float pool to fill the hospital’s most urgent care needs, call-ins of casual/part-time staff members and diverting patients who could receive care in more appropriate settings,” said Marshall.

She added that CKHA ramped down elective surgeries as part of its normal Operating Room pause during the holiday season.

Marshall said hospitals in Ontario were directed to remain at that ramped-down level to prepare for the potential impact of the Omicron variant. CKHA has retained its emergent and urgent surgeries, including cancer surgeries. She said this provided CKHA with some needed capacity and also the ability to redeploy staff as COVID patient admissions started to climb.

Marshall said Directive #2 is now in effect and requires the cancellation of elective surgeries and other non-emergent/urgent procedures.

Meanwhile, despite having previously mandating employees to get two shots in order to work at the hospital, Marshall said CKHA is not mandating boosters shots for staff at this time.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is also not considering changing its current vaccination policy for staff. Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire reported on Jan. 6 that 68 municipal staff are off because of COVID-19. He said 18 have the virus, and 50 are self-isolating.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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