4 Hamilton-area hospitals already over capacity as COVID and flu season begins

While COVID transmission numbers in Hamilton’s hospitals are stable, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, says wastewater data shows the virus is on the rise once again in the city. 

Richardson said as the community gets deeper into flu season, proper hand washing, masking, vaccinations and staying home when sick are important. 

“COVID vaccines continue to be very, very important in reducing transmission,” she said at a press conference on Thursday. 

The latest version of COVID-19 vaccine, targeting the XBB variant of the virus, is available to high-risk patients. That group includes people older than 65, people in congregate living settings such as long-term care, those who are pregnant, and individuals with underlying medical conditions that make infection more dangerous.

Richardson said cases of Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which heavily impacts children, have been spiking across the province and in wastewater samples. 

Dr. Brian McKenna, with Hamilton Family Health Team, said he has been seeing an increase in cold and flu cases.

“If we are in store for what we saw last November to February, we are in for a significant strain well beyond where we’re at right now,” he said. 

He said people should contact their primary family doctor if they believe they are at risk, but noted that around 60,000 people in Hamilton do not have a family doctor. 

Some procedures cancelled due to capacity issues

At Thursday’s press conference, leaders from Hamilton’s four major hospitals said capacity is already an issue, even without a large number of respiratory patients. 

Hamilton General Hospital is at 107 per cent capacity, McMaster Children’s Hospital is at 112 per cent capacity, Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre is at 118 per cent and West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is at 114 per cent capacity. 

Sharon Pierson with Hamilton Health Sciences said over the last two weeks, hospitals in the HHS network, including Hamilton General Hospital and Juravinski Cancer Centre, have “had to cancel elective and scheduled care.” 

This includes cardiac and oncology procedures and appointments. 

Juravinski’s emergency department was built to care for 80 patients and currently has 100 patients admitted, she said. 

“We try always to make sure that time-sensitive care can proceed,” she said. 

McMaster Children’s Hospital built 12 additional beds in three of its departments last year, which the hospital’s president, Dr. Bruce Squires, said has put the hospital in a better position to “absorb a highly active flu season.”

But the capacity issue will take more than a dozen beds to fix capacity issues. 

“In many ways, the system has been undersized for the populations we serve,” said Squires.

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton seeing complex cases

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) is also at full capacity, said Dr. Cheryl Williams, vice president of clinical operations. 

She said patients are being admitted with complex psychiatric cases, often related to substance abuse and mental illness. 

When patients are in hospital for symptoms that could be treated in other settings, they are referred to as alternate level of care patients.

Pierson said HHS has around 270 patients with alternate level of care needs and 120 of those patients are living in hotel rooms, waiting for care. 

“There are a significant number [of patients] waiting to go to long-term care homes, a number waiting to go to supportive housing within the community,” she said, adding others are waiting for rehab or palliative care. 


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