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HHS hospitals to ramp up non-urgent surgeries, ease visitor policies as COVID-19 numbers drop

With daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline across province, one of Hamilton’s hospital agencies is beginning a “cautious” ramp-up of its non-emergency surgeries.

During the Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) town hall for staff on Thursday, EVP and chief operating officer Sharon Pierson said the hospital is hoping to achieve about 70 per cent in surgical activity by next week following directions from the province.

“The first direction was that hospitals could proceed with activity related to inpatient care and then this past week could increase cautiously to include some surgical activity that would require resources such as bed,” said Pierson.

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In April, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) ordered hospitals to begin reaching out to patients to reschedule elective surgeries in order to preserve critical care capacity and staffing levels amid rising admissions tied to COVID-19 cases.

St. Joe’s, HHS and Joseph Brant in Burlington all began deferring procedures just days later. HHS had already ramped down surgeries during the pandemic to about 50 per cent.

Pierson said the priority around what surgeries are returning and the timeline will be guided by the HHS ethical framework along with decisions around deployment, patient safety and clinical need.

“Lots of planning is in progress to get us back to 100 per cent across all of our sites, along with the procedural activity that has also been impacted like endoscopy, HIU (Heart Investigation Unit) activity, etc.”

As of Thursday Hamilton hospitals – HHS and St. Joe’s – are treating 43 total patients with COVID-19,  23 are in ICU’s.

HHS is reporting that between the Juravinski hospital and Hamilton General, the agency has nine patients receiving ECMO treatment — or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation —  a form of life support that uses a pump to circulate blood through a machine. The system replaces the work of someone’s lungs and, in some cases, their heart.

Ontario recorded 371 patients in intensive care units across the province’s hospitals on Thursday with 219 on ventilators.

Dr. Dominik Mertz, director of infection prevention and control at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), says despite a small “hump” in which city cases rose slightly last week, current trends put Hamilton close to the same point it was at in October.

However, ICU care continues to decline at a much slower rate according to the epidemiologist.

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“In terms of ICU, again, similar to where we’ve been at the peak of the second wave and roughly that a of the peak of the third wave,” Mertz said.

“So things have significantly improved as well, but not quite where we would like it to be at this point.”

The overall numbers have improved enough to precipitate an easing of some hospital restrictions on visitor policies, as well as a pause on regular asymptomatic testing for patients that stop in for essential treatments like dialysis.

For now, the immediate change or the change in the next few days will be the visitor policy only,” Mertz said.

“The rest to follow in a couple of weeks if things continue on the current trajectory.”

Hamilton reported 35 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday with active cases dropping slightly day over day, by 4 to 332 as of June 10.

Over 76 per cent of the city’s active cases are among people under 50. Just over 20 per cent involve teens.

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The city’s per cent positivity rate remains at 5.3 per cent as of Wednesday, as does the province’s number which is at 2 per cent.

There were no new reported outbreaks in the city on Wednesday, nor were any closed.

Public health is reporting nine total outbreaks involving 52 cases. Five of the outbreaks are in workplaces tied to 15 cases.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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