‘Controlled chaos’: COVID-19 pushes Hamilton hospitals, health-care workers to the limit

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Published April 28, 2021 at 7:53 am

Health-care workers in Hamilton are raising the alarm as they struggle with the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the city’s ‘severely stretched’ ICU capacity.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) issued a press release on Tuesday (April 27) that offered a glimpse of the pandemic’s increasing pressure on our health-care system, and its unrelenting impact on the people tasked with treating those taken down by the virus.

“We have been doing this for a year, we are more than exhausted. We are no longer the frontline or the last line. The public needs to save themselves.” said Cindi Neptune, who is a Trauma ICU nurse at Hamilton General Hospital, in the release.

“We are seeing multiple family members, within a family die from Covid-19 because they feel their holiday and family gatherings are more important than their lives. We are not coping, we are showing up because we are nurses and that’s what we do.”

Cindi Neptune — HHS handout

HHS has increased the number of ICU beds at the Hamilton General and Juravinski Hospitals by 43 per cent, from 88 to 126 overall and has redeployed almost 200 staff.

Those redeployed, in many cases, need to update their skill set and training to assume their new roles. And yet, it’s still not enough, according to the press release.

“More are needed,” it said.

Dozens of HHS and St. Joe’s health-care workers are currently in self-isolation and there are close to 40 staff and physicians across both hospital systems with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this month, local hospitals started scaling back elective procedures and other services to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients.

Outside of the General, on Wellington Street, a field hospital has been erected in a back parking lot where even more COVID-19 patients from Hamilton and the GTA will be treated.

As of Tuesday, HHS is treating 111 people for COVID-19 with 44 in ICU beds. Hospitals administered by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton are treating an additional 46 patients.

“Each ICU bed includes an array of equipment to support patient care,” the press release explained.

“The increase in capacity and equipment has required the doubling up of beds in some rooms and putting ICU beds in areas normally reserved for procedural care.”

Each ICU patient requires a team of health-care professionals for care: nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, infection control and prevention team, social workers, perfusionists, dietitians, pharmacists, occupational therapists, clinical educators, physiotherapists, speech-language therapists, health care aides, business clerks and porters.

Amy Teichmann — HHS handout

“This pandemic has had a massive impact on the physical, mental and emotional capacities of our team in ICU…I worry about the long-term effects on us as individuals,” said Amy Teichmann, a registered nurse working in the ICU at Juravinski Hospital.

“I wish the public could see within our walls. I wish they could see our hurt. I wish they could see our tears. I wish they could see our fear. I wish they could feel the heartbreak we feel for the patients, their families and for each other.”

Help could soon be on the way for Ontario’s health-care workers as the Federal government plans to deploy dozens of health professionals from both the military and federal public service to provinces struggling with the latest wave of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said military personnel will be mobilized in Ontario in the next few days, after the Forces carried out its assessment of what the province needs on Monday.

The military intends to deploy nine intensive-care nurses and three multipurpose medical teams.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says there are also 62 federal health “human resources” who are volunteering to help in Ontario, and the Canadian Red Cross is sending 13 more nurses with ICU experience.

Another 30 people from the Red Cross are being offered, but Blair didn’t specify what expertise they bring.

Whether or not help will come to Hamilton remains to be seen but local reports on Tuesday suggest it is very likely.

Dr. Bram Rochwerg — HHS handout

“Every day at this point is controlled chaos,” said Dr. Bram Rochwerg, ICU Juravinski Hospital site lead and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University.

“The ICU is operating at 150 per cent capacity compared to pre-pandemic times, and we are constantly planning for where and how we can care for more critically ill patients with COVID.”

— with a file from The Canadian Press

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