The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is planning to begin reintroducing elective surgeries as early as Monday, but it could all come to a screeching halt if there’s a community spike in positive COVID-19 cases.
Alliance president and CEO Lori Marshall said Ontario Health has invited the province’s hospitals “to plan for the gradual and measured approach to reintroducing elective surgeries and other procedures.”
She noted planning among hospitals across the Erie-St.Clair Local Health Integration Network will allow additional procedures to begin as early as Monday if the plan is supported by Ontario Health.
However, Marshall said there are some stipulations that must be met.
“A major piece of us being able to proceed, being able to do additional procedures, depends on there being a low level of COVID-19 in the community and few admissions to the hospital,” she said.
“In the event that we have to surge up to respond to an increase in admissions, then that would mean, again, we would need to reduce elective surgeries.”
Marshall said other stipulations include maintaining an 85 per cent bed occupancy as an organization.
She added there’s also a need to ensure a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment because the use of that equipment “will go up dramatically” once additional surgical procedures are reintroduced.
In reiterating the ramp-up of elective surgeries and other procedures will be gradual, Marshall said one additional operating room will be opened initially.
Allowing more elective surgeries creates the need for surgical patients to make other visits to the hospital for such things as diagnostic tests ahead of their procedure and follow-up visits afterwards, she said.
Marshall said people who are waiting for a surgery will be contacted by their surgeon’s office, so there is no need for people to call the hospital to ask if their procedure has been rescheduled or scheduled.
“People will be contacted directly if that is the case.”
She said it is difficult to describe the backlog that’s been created during the pandemic in total numbers.
“What’s happened is the surgeons are continuing to assess patients and then moving (them) around on their own waiting lists,” Marshall said.
Under normal operations, the health alliance runs six operating rooms, she said.
“During the pandemic, we’ve had one operating room that’s been focused on emergency surgeries and a second operating room that’s been focused on urgent procedures during that time,” Marshall said.
In theory, the health alliance has been operating with a third of its normal resources, she said, adding emergency surgeries and urgent surgeries, including cancer surgeries, have continued.
Marshall encouraged the community to continue the great work of physical distancing and practising good hand hygiene, and “doing everything we can to ensure the hospital services are here in an emergency situation and also that we can start to do more elective procedures.”