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Local hospital CEOs detail strain Omicron wave has placed on system, with no peak on horizon

Cambridge Memorial Hospital is expecting to see number of COVID patients double to 60 by next Saturday

During Friday’s COVID-19 community update, the region’s three hospital CEOs delivered a plea to residents to continue every possible effort to help blunt COVID's fifth wave as hospital beds are in increasingly short supply.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital president and chief executive officer Patrick Gaskin said dealing with the fifth wave has already been a “long haul” with two outbreaks impacting the hospital and 108 staff members off sick or isolating due to COVID.

On Jan. 4 CMH declared a COVID outbreak on its rehab unit. That was followed by an outbreak in the hospital’s surgery unit on Jan. 7.

Both outbreaks have grown since then.

The hospital reported Thursday that as of Jan. 11, nine patients and staff members exposed during the initial outbreaks have been infected with COVID.

As of Friday, the hospital is at 97 per cent capacity with one ICU bed available and five in general medicine.

Of the 30 patients at CMH with COVID, five are in ICU.

Gaskin said the numbers seem to be following what the Ontario Science Table is saying about exponential growth with Omicron that sees infections doubling every eight days. 

A week ago, CMH was caring for 15 patients with COVID. 

That means the current number of beds filled by COVID patients could double to 60 by next Saturday.  

“Keep in mind we only have six beds today, only one of which is in the ICU,” Gaskin said. 

He said he can’t stress enough how important vaccination has been at blunting the impact of the disease and allowing hospitals to manage the caseload.

"The vaccine was never advertised as a cure for COVID-19," he said. "People will get the disease, some will die of it, maybe for other conditions, but the vaccine we know is effective to protect each other, protect the community and blunt the effects of the disease.”

“People are much more protected against being hospitalized, ending up in ICUs or dying.”

For every 11 people in ICUs in Ontario today, 10 are unvaccinated, he said. For every five people in hospital with COVID, four are unvaccinated.

Among the COVID-related admissions to hospital in the region over the last year, 85 per cent of the close to 900 admissions were unvaccinated. 

“Only 60 people in our region who were fully vaccinated have needed admission into one of our hospitals related to COVID-19.”

Gaskin said evidence that vaccines work is clear when they look at their staff and touted the hospital’s mandatory vaccination policy as being critical to keeping staff and the community safe.

Hospital staff who have tested positive for the virus are getting mild symptoms and they’re back to work in a timely manner, he said.

He urged everyone to get vaccinated if they aren’t already and to follow public health advice.

The next weeks ahead are going to be very bumpy for our healthcare system, Gaskin said.

At Grand River Hospital the number of COVID positive patients is at 56 with 60 per cent of all patients being admitted to hospital coming in for COVID related illness.

The surge in admissions has left only 12 beds available with some of those blocked off due to outbreak.

COVID has so far impacted 243 team members at GRH as it looks to bring more team members on board and ways to open up capacity for more patients over the next few weeks.

President and CEO Ron Gangon said hospitals in Waterloo region were already at a disadvantage heading into the fifth wave of the pandemic with less beds per capita than the provincial average and capacity already at 94 per cent.

That's despite regional hospitals adding 215 beds since the pandemic started, along with the people, equipment and other services needed to accept patients.

The additional beds represent almost a 30 per cent increase, but even with the new capacity, Gagnon said regional hospitals are expecting to need to lean on healthcare partners in other regions.

“Demand for care has long outpaced capacity prior to the pandemic, but now, even with increased capacity and hiring of hundreds of staff, this stage of the pandemic is challenging us,” said St. Mary’s president and CEO Lee Fairclough.

St. Mary’s has seen a jump from 23 to 40 infectious COVID patients since last Friday with no more beds available as capacity has reached 104 per cent.

“Our hospitals have experienced the most additional pressure we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic,” she said.

Gagnon cautioned about drawing distinctions between people who come to hospitals seeking help to manage their COVID related symptoms and those who test positive while in hospital for other reasons.

He said even if someone comes into the hospital with heart problems and is later diagnosed with COVID, their care becomes more complicated, they deteriorate faster and they stay longer.

“At the end of the day, what that means is our occupancy is just as tight. Our ability to deliver care is becoming more and more strained every day."

Gaskin said between 80 and 90 per cent of patients in CMH’s medicine unit are there because of exacerbation of their COVID symptoms.

The region’s chief medical officer of health echoed the concern of the CEOs, saying it’s unfortunate that it’s assumed incidental COVID doesn’t mean much.

“We’ve had a major, dramatic surge of hospitalizations. If someone has a predisposing condition and they get COVID, that likely makes their condition is worse.

“These patients impact the hospital capacity, they impact the hospital workers. This is not a sudden influx of issues outside of COVID that is happening to hospitals.”

With this wave of COVID, there are going to be a significant number of people ending up in hospital requiring serious care, she said.