Only one bed available at Grand River Hospital amid 'unprecedented level of pressure'
Officials at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener are asking recently retired staff to return to work as they continue to deal with staffing and capacity shortages during the Omicron surge.
According to a media release, as of 11 a.m. Thursday there were 11 patients waiting on stretchers in the emergency department.
"Looking at the 660 beds across GRH’s KW and Freeport Campuses, there is only one available bed, which means there’s no place for these patients to go," the release said in part.
“Today we are facing an unprecedented level of pressure across our hospital," President and CEO Ron Gagnon said in the release. “Since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve added 146 additional beds and today, all but one – a remaining bed in our critical care – is filled.”
Officials said they're seeing more admissions to critical care and medicine programs. Some patients are waiting in the emergency departments for hours, or even days, because there are no clinical beds available. Officials added they have 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,” Gagnon said. “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.”
The release said the Omicron surge has hit hospitals hard across Ontario. Many staff are also unable to come to work.
"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," Gagnon said.
Unifor's Katha Fortier says the union's more than 1,300 members at the hospital are feeling overworked and underappreciated. She's also encouraging retired nurses to help if they can, but hopes to see the more than $300 licence renewal fee covered for those putting the scrubs back on.
"I think it would be a really good show of faith from some employers to say 'we'll just pay the fee for you to come back to work, we're going to make this easy and do whatever we can do to make sure we've got staff in the hospital," said Fortier.
While community cases are starting to plateau, officials said pressure on hospitals lags by two to three weeks.
"Hospitals are preparing for the likelihood that admissions have not yet peaked," the release said.
“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,” Dr. Peter Potts, joint chief of staff at GRH and St. Mary’s General Hospital (SMGH), said in the release.
Officials again stressed the importance of vaccination to prevent serious outcomes from a COVID-19 infection.
“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,” Potts said.
“We ask for the community’s continued support of our health care workers,” Gagnon said. “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.”
Doris Grinspun, head of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, says she isn't surprised to hear the call for help.
"Nurses, physicians, and others have sent me pictures that you don't want to see and I will not disclose with the public," she said. "A bed without a nurse is a piece of furniture. A building with beds, even if it's full of beds, if they don't have a doctor or a nurse there, you can't do anything."
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