The Perfect Enemy | ‘No place to put them’: Overwhelmed hospitals brace for COVID crunch
August 17, 2022

‘No place to put them’: Overwhelmed hospitals brace for COVID crunch

‘No place to put them’: Overwhelmed hospitals brace for COVID crunch  Saskatoon Star-PhoenixView Full Coverage on Google News

Read Time:5 Minute

Saskatchewan’s hospitals are already slammed. Doctors worry a meaningful rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations could tip the balance.

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Saskatchewan’s next wave of COVID-19 could tip the balance at hospital wards that are already well beyond their maximum capacity.

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Internal Saskatchewan Health Authority memos obtained by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix show the province’s hospital beds are the fullest they have ever been over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, discounting intensive care units, even though the number of actual patients with COVID-19 is fairly low.

Doctors and union leaders worry an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations would thus add a burden to hospitals that are already struggling to care for their patients — or even force them to once again postpone certain surgeries to free up staff.

“To be honest with you, the only thing that can be done to be able to look after a potential increase of COVID admissions is by cancelling, in my opinion, some elective procedures or surgeries. Because you cannot send patients home from the emergency room,” Saskatchewan Health Authority medicine head Dr. Haissam Haddad said.

Dr. Haissam Haddad is worried about staff mental health and burnout given the high number of patients in Saskatoon’s medicine units.
Dr. Haissam Haddad is worried about staff mental health and burnout given the high number of patients in Saskatoon’s medicine units. Photo by Michelle Berg /jpg

“I hope this will not happen. This will be alarming.”

In Saskatoon, internal medicine beds were running at 140 per cent capacity on Friday, Haddad said. Medicine beds are so full that internal SHA documents said 105 patients were “off-service” on July 20, meaning they were being cared for by staff in surgical and emergency departments on top of their other duties.

The same report found Regina and Saskatoon’s medicine units were collectively at 123 per cent capacity, of which 16.6 per cent were patients with COVID-19.

Despite those relatively small figures, Haddad said Saskatoon’s medicine units have been overcapacity for months, due to a combination of staff shortages and an influx of patients.

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We have to remember, we have two and a half years of a backlog of people with other illness who possibly haven’t been able to get the treatment they need,” said Denise Dick, the first vice-president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

She and Haddad worry about a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations that will only make that problem worse.

The Regina General Hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan on April 6, 2021.
The Regina General Hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan on April 6, 2021. Photo by BRANDON HARDER /Regina Leader-Post

An epidemiological report released Thursday showed infections and hospital admissions related to COVID-19 have increased in recent weeks. The data suggest the rapid spread of BA.5, an iteration of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, has caused the number of infections to rise.

This week, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were forced to postpone a planned Saturday game after 10 players caught COVID-19 this month. Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, the province’s deputy medical health officer, said Wednesday that those rising infection numbers are beginning to translate into hospitalizations.

Kryzanowski said it’s unclear how severe the wave will be. Unlike previous surges of COVID-19, Saskatchewan can now vaccinate every resident aged six months and older. And about half of adults have a third “booster” dose that is shown to protect against hospitalization.

But about 96 per cent of people who have received that third dose did so at least four months ago, meaning immunity is beginning to wane, according to an internal SHA presentation. And about one in five residents has not received a COVID-19 vaccine at all — worse than any other province.

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“The way the system is now, the overcapacity it is running already, if there was a huge influx, I don’t know what would happen. There’s no place to put them and there’s no one to care for them,” Dick said.

The StarPhoenix requested an interview with Health Minister Paul Merriman. The Ministry of Health instead sent an unattributed statement saying COVID-19 surge plans can still be deployed as needed.

“Medicine beds at our largest facilities often experience increased pressures and may be over capacity at any time. This is not new to the system and similar pressures have been seen across the country,” the statement said.

Haddad believes the province should permanently increase the number of acute care beds and the staff that comes with it. He said the current workload is grinding down morale and cannot continue.

“We can handle being overrun for a few weeks or a few months,” Haddad said. “But not forever.”

  1. Mike McGuire holds a photo of his mom Lois. Lois died at St. Paul's hospital earlier this month after being hospitalized for what seemed like a routine health issue. Photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Friday, March 25, 2022.

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  2. Dr. Haissam Haddad said pressures on medicine units are unprecedented.

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