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Hotel turned hospital expanded as pressure mounts at Hamilton Health Sciences

Posted: August 27, 2022

(August 26, 2022)

By: Joanna Frketich, Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton’s largest hospital network is opening up 30 more beds at a downtown Satellite Health Facility to cope with increasing pressure on the health-care system.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) consistently has more than 200 patients ready to be discharged from hospital but are waiting for services in the community — such as long-term care (LTC), rehabilitation, complex continuing care, mental-health care and home care. 

Many of them have been relocated to the temporary health facility at 150 King St. E. downtown in the former Crowne Plaza Hotel.

HHS says it has nowhere else to send the patients — known as alternate level of care (ALC) — and opening up more beds at the revamped hotel is a last-ditch attempt to keep acute-care beds open in the hospitals. 

“Our sites are experiencing extremely high volumes and are continually operating above 100 per cent capacity,” HHS said in a statement Aug. 19. “While we are working diligently to avoid bed closures, limited options are available for patients to receive care elsewhere in the region as our hospital and long-term-care partners face similar challenges.”

The extra space opening up in early September will bring HHS up to 120 beds at the satellite facility that cares mostly for seniors. St. Joseph’s Healthcare operates 60 more beds there. It raises the number over the 150-bed limit reported when it opened in October 2020, with St. Joseph’s currently considering further expansion.

“Opening up further beds is under discussion,” St. Joseph’s said in a statement. 

Also contributing to the overcrowding are regional patients ready to be sent back to their home hospitals but stuck in Hamilton. 

“Pressures at other health organizations across our region are limiting our ability to return patients to their home hospitals after they visit HHS for specialized care,” stated HHS. “This impacts our ability to admit new patients in to a hospital bed in a timely manner.”

In addition, the seventh wave of COVID driven by the highly contagious BA.5 Omicron subvariant continues to add strain. 

Hamilton’s hospitals were caring for 126 patients with COVID and had 273 staff self-isolating due to infection or exposure as of Thursday. 

HHS also had seven active outbreaks as of Tuesday — five at Hamilton General Hospital, one at Juravinski Hospital and one at St. Peter’s Hospital.

“COVID-19 transmission in Hamilton is high and stable,” reported the weekly status update put out by public health on Wednesday. 

Daily average cases had climbed to 98 on Aug. 9, but have been hovering around 80 since around Aug. 13. Case counts are an underestimate as the general public doesn’t have access to PCR testing. 

Other key metrics such as wastewater samples with COVID-19 detected and the per cent of tests coming back positive have also stabilized over the last two weeks. However, the seventh wave is predicted by Scarsin Forecasting to “greatly increase” in the fall.

The city reported six more COVID deaths from Aug. 9 to Aug. 23, including a Hamiltonian in their 50s. Over the course of the pandemic, 14 Hamiltonians in their 50s have died of COVID. 

Of the city’s 603 pandemic fatalities, 27 have been between the ages of 20 to 59. No kids age 19 or younger have died in Hamilton during the pandemic.

Five of the most recent COVID deaths were seniors age 80 and older. Nearly two-thirds of Hamilton’s pandemic deaths have been among this age group.

Seniors homes also continue to be hit hard in the seventh wave, accounting for eight of the city’s 22 outbreaks in high-risk settings. Three of the outbreaks in long-term care homes and retirement homes have reported deaths.

The largest ongoing outbreak was at Regina Gardens Long-Term Care Residence, where 69 have been infected and one has died at the west Mountain home since July 28. Another large outbreak was at Extendicare Hamilton, where 54 have tested positive and one has died at the west Mountain long-term care home since July 18. Lastly, there have been 17 cases and one death at the Meadows long-term care home in Ancaster since Aug. 2.

The ongoing outbreaks both in hospitals and seniors’ homes have exacerbated a long-standing staffing and overcrowding crisis that has reached unprecedented levels over the course of the pandemic.

“As a result of capacity challenges, surgical and procedural activity remains at 75 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes,” stated HHS. “Wait times in our emergency departments remain high. In some cases, we have had to postpone surgeries and appointments due to staffing levels and other factors relating to hospital capacity.”

HHS has recruited over 500 nurses so far this year but is still so short-staffed that it’s paying them double to work outside of their regularly scheduled shifts on standby teams to fill in gaps.

To try and deal with the hospital overcrowding, the Ontario government has introduced the controversial Bill 7, More Beds, Better Care Act, that allows actions to be taken without a patients’ consent to help move them from hospital to a long-term care home.

Concerns that the bill could lead to seniors being forced into long-term care — particularly homes they did not choose or facilities that are far from their families — have been jointly raised by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

“There are 38,000 people waiting for a long-term care home in Ontario,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “The only long-term care homes that do not have long waiting lists are those to which people do not want to go.”

The organizations say suspending the rights of seniors is discriminatory.

“The pandemic exposed horrific conditions of care and living in some long-term care homes,” stated the organizations. “Many people are frightened to go to homes which have histories of poor compliance with the law and poor outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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