Hamilton hospital CEO warns of 'dire reality' as admissions and COVID-19 cases climb

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The president of Hamilton Health Sciences is warning residents it's up to the community to keep local hospitals from facing a "dire reality" as occupancy rates continuing to rise and admission for COVID-19 patients climbs across the GTHA.

"Our health system is in a very high stakes situation at the moment," said Rob MacIsaac during a media update Friday.

"There is no slack left in the system."

HHS hospitals were operating over 100 per cent capacity earlier in the week, even as staff continue to dig into the backlog created by surgeries and procedures that were cancelled or postponed during the first wave of the virus, said MacIsaac.

The hospitals have completed 4,000 fewer surgeries and 5,000 fewer diagnostic tests so far this year compared to 2019, according to the CEO.

People are afraid to come to the hospital because of the virus and patients — especially kids — are facing longer-than-average wait lists, he said.

MacIsaac described Hamilton's move to the red "control" zone in Ontario's COVID-19 framework as "worrisome" for health-care staff, adding they need the help of the community to stop the spread.

"We don't have the capacity to absorb a significant second wave of COVID-19 without seriously scaling back our other services."

Staffing is another area of "great concern," said the CEO, but HHS is so far "holding our own."

Ontario saw 150 patients in intensive care units being treated for COVID-19, this week, a key threshold experts say makes it harder for hospitals to support other patients and procedures.

Provincial modelling, released in September by the Ministry of Health, noted that with under 150 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, Ontario would be able to maintain non-COVID capacity and all scheduled surgeries.

"Above 150 it becomes harder to support non-COVID care needs and above 350 it becomes impossible," reads a presentation slide shared with the media.

MacIsaac called ICU beds a "precious resource" but said as of Friday that HHS was caring for 11 COVID-19 patients, a number "well within our abilities to manage."