One Hamilton hospital over capacity, while beds are filling up in two others

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Published November 28, 2023 at 4:48 pm

McMaster Children's hospital Hamilton hospitals full
McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) in Hamilton will join St. Joe's West 5th in having a dedicated flu, COVID-19, and cold clinic.

Hamilton Health Services’ (HHS) hospitals are under “significant pressure” amid a rise in respiratory viruses and a swelling surgical backlog, with Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre sitting at 110 per cent capacity and Hamilton General Hospital and McMaster Children’s Hospital filling up.

According to a Nov. 23 snapshot of HHS hospital activity, Hamilton General Hospital is at 98 per cent capacity, while McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) is at 95 per cent.

The West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Grimsby is at 129 per cent capacity. 

“Hamilton’s healthcare partners are asking for the community’s help in preventing the spread of respiratory illness this fall/winter season and preserving access to the city’s urgent care and emergency resources for those who need them most,” the website says. 

“All HHS sites, including our emergency departments (EDs) continue to be under significant pressure.” 

According to the website, there are currently 94 COVID-positive patients in hospital, but fewer than five patients with COVID in the ICU. 

Earlier this week, hospital administrators said the situation at MCH was particularly serious due to significant and ongoing staff shortages. 

The HHS said respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) rates have again increased with the onset of flu season. The latest weekly HHS update found 27 pediatric patients admitted with flu, RSV or COVID. This is a jump from the 23 admitted last week. Of the 27 pediatric patients admitted to hospital, 17 have RSV. 

As a result of this rise, the Ontario government announced a $30 million investment in HHS to “connect children and youth to more convenient and high-quality care closer to home.”

Despite noting HHS hospitals are globally acclaimed, MCH President Bruce Squires said the hospital, like others, is grappling with extensive wait times. 

“Unfortunately, investment in our service and our infrastructure did not keep up with the growing number of kids, increasing acuity (particularly exacerbated by the pandemic) and increasing need for more advanced complex care,” he said. 

“Those challenges and essentially under-sizing, have limited the sector’s ability to deliver the care we all know is possible for children, youth and families.”

The HHS said ER wait times are currently longer than usual.

“Our children’s emergency department is getting busier than usual. Every fall and winter, we see a rise in emergency department visits for respiratory illnesses. We’re seeing a lot more children with cough, fever and trouble breathing,” said MCH emergency department physician Dr. Nathalie Schindler in a statement.

“This is the time for children and families to get their flu and COVID vaccines to decrease the risk of severe illness.”

The HHS is asking people to wear masks inside all areas of its hospitals, avoid visiting others in the hospital if sick, wash their hands thoroughly (especially after eating, coughing, sneezing and using the washroom). 

The HHS says Hamilton General Hospital could redirect patients to other facilities should it need to save beds for critically sick and injured patients. It also said some scheduled care is being deferred. 

Last year, HHS had to cancel or postpone 66 per cent of scheduled surgeries to cope with an incredible influx of seriously ill patients suffering from respiratory illnesses that became rarer during pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, 2021 and early 2022. 

Earlier this month, Squires–who praised the investment from the province–said hospitals were in need of additional funding a year ago, when children were waiting up to 48 hours for an inpatient bed. 

He also said there are still issues, including the need to hire new staff. Reports indicate HHS is short hundreds of health care workers, with MCH alone short 365 people.

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