Grand River Hospital asks for community’s support amidst historical capacity challenges
As you have seen from the joint hospital reports from all Waterloo-Wellington hospitals, severe pressures are being experienced right now.
At 11am on Thursday morning, Grand River Hospital’s (GRH) occupancy dashboard – a quick glance at all the available beds in the hospital – shows 11 patients are waiting on a stretcher in the emergency department to be admitted to an inpatient unit. Looking at the 660 beds across GRH’s KW and Freeport Campuses, there is only 1 available bed, which means there no place for these patients to go.
“Today we are facing an unprecedented level of pressure across our hospital.” says GRH president and CEO, Ron Gagnon. “Since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve added 146 additional beds and today, all but 1 – a remaining bed in our critical care – is filled.”
Grand River Hospital is seeing increasing admissions to both its critical care and medicine programs with patients waiting in the emergency department for many hours and for some, days, due to the fact that there are no beds available on clinical units.
GRH currently has many active outbreaks making it challenging to admit new patients to these units as limiting the risk of exposure to COVID for both patients and staff is a competing priority.
“We are now at the point where we may need to start transferring patients out of our hospital for care, and it’s a point we never wanted to reach,” says Gagnon. “We also know that this is not an easy or ready fix, as many hospitals in the region and across the province are in the same situation.”
“We are working as hard and fast as we can to find available beds and team members to staff them,” says Bonnie Camm, executive vice president of clinical services at GRH. “This week alone we’ve opened thirteen additional beds including our ICU C unit with four beds and nine beds for alternate level of care patients at our Freeport Campus. In most cases, these are patients who would be returning home or to long term care facilities if it weren’t for the impact of COVID-19 and, in particular, the system-wide outbreaks. We’ve also had to place patients in non-traditional beds such as our children’s inpatient unit and day surgery unit. We have plans to open another fifteen transitional care beds at our Freeport Campus next week. We’re finding space where we can, but staffing remains a challenge.”
The wide spread of Omicron has hit GRH, and other hospitals, hard with hundreds of staff impacted by COVID – either having tested positive or been exposed – and unable to come to work. While the region is seeing a decline in infection in the community, the resulting pressure on hospitals historically lags by two or three weeks. Hospitals are preparing for the likelihood that admissions have not yet peaked. This challenge is Page 2 of 2 further exacerbated by the reality that health care workers have been battling this pandemic for 22-months.
“Our clinical and human resources teams have done a lot over the past almost 2 years to recruit and retain new team members, primarily nurses,” says Gagnon. “From virtual career fairs, to partnerships with local colleges and universities, to taking advantage of provincial initiatives like the Nursing Grad Guarantee and the new Supervised Practice Experience Partnership initiative for internationally educated nurses – we are working around the clock to hire and train registered clinical staff to respond to this wave of the pandemic.
We’re calling recently retired team members to ask them to come back. Like every other hospital, our team is persevering through these challenges and we are doing as much as we can to support them with more staff.”
“While the situation is dire, it is not hopeless and there is still much the community can do to support not just GRH, but all our local hospitals right now,” says Dr. Peter Potts, joint chief of staff at GRH and St. Mary’s General Hospital (SMGH). During this fifth wave of COVID, largely fueled by the Omicron variant, in general hospitals have seen a greater proportion of unvaccinated individuals among those who have been admitted “for” COVID-related illness and those who have arrived “with” COVID along with their primary complaint.
“We know vaccination is still our best line of defense against COVID-19 so please get vaccinated as soon as possible, whether it’s your first, second or third dose. We also ask that you consider other options outside of our emergency departments such as the new COVID assessment centres at SMGH and Cambridge Memorial Hospital, urgent care clinics, or your family physician’s office. We will care for everyone who comes to our EDs, but please remember there are other options available to you.”
“We ask for the community’s continued support of our health care workers,” says Gagnon. “I know we are all feeling the weight of almost two years in this pandemic and in this time we’ve all experienced some of our lowest and most difficult moments. I ask our community for the kindness, empathy, and celebration we saw for health care workers during the first wave and to remember health care workers are facing many of the same pressures at home as you are. Twenty-two months later we are still here for you, so please, be here for us.”