Calls increase for provincial support to help ease pressures at McMaster Children’s Hospital

The rise in children seeking medical care for a respiratory virus and seasonal flu continues to overwhelm Hamilton’s McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), prompting questions around the role of the provincial government in responding to the crisis facing hospitals.

The pressures at MCH “continue to escalate,” Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) said Friday in a news release, with the hospital’s pediatric inpatient occupancy over 140 per cent and emergency department visits measuring 20 per cent higher than normal. 

There are currently 53 children admitted with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu and other viral illnesses at MCH —  a significant increase from two weeks ago, when there were 14 such patients, HHS said. 

MCH’s emergency department is seeing upwards of 200 children a day, with wait times of 12 to 13 hours. It takes nearly 24 hours before those patients can get a bed, the hospital said. It may have to move critically ill children over the age of 14 to adult critical care units, HHS said. Already, surgical patients aged 16 and 17 are being sent to adult HHS hospitals to help free up space.

‘This is hurting our community’: Hamilton MPP

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, is set to make an announcement on Monday where he is expected to recommend the public wear masks, but not mandate it. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford did not answer repeated questions Sunday about mandating masks.

President and CEO of HHS, Rob MacIsaac, said Ford “checked in” on HHS Friday and MacIsaac thanked the premier for “taking the time to ask about how we are coping in these difficult times,” he said on Twitter.

The call came one day after Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor sent a letter to the Ontario minister of health, urging the provincial government to “take immediate action to support Hamilton’s pediatric medical system” and “deploy resources, including staff” to MCH.

“Hamilton continues to have one of the most crowded emergency rooms in the province, and this is hurting our community,” Taylor wrote. 

When asked if MacIsaac made any requests to the provincial government or comments to Ford on the government’s role in responding to the challenges facing hospitals, HHS said by email the call with Ford was about “the current staffing and capacity pressures at HHS and specifically MCH, as well as across the health system.”

HHS did not provide further detail about the contents of the call but HHS communications adviser Wendy Stewart told CBC Hamilton it was initiated by the premier’s office and was one of “daily discussions with government and our healthcare partners.”

CBC Hamilton has requested comment from the province on whether it has received requests for help in Hamilton or any concrete actions it may take to support MCH in particular.

Amie Archibald-Varley lives in Hamilton and is a registered nurse and parent. She says she’d like to know more about what Hamilton Health Sciences president Rob MacIsaac said to Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday. (Danielle Blancher)

Hamilton resident Amie Archibald-Varley, a registered nurse and host of The Gritty Nurse podcast, said the public deserves more transparency about what MacIsaac and Ford discussed. 

“Rob MacIsaac had a great… opportunity to talk and advocate on folks behalf at Hamilton Health Sciences, [about] what’s happening with the pediatric illness and respiratory illness crisis,” she told CBC Hamilton Sunday.

“He should have urged the government… to say, you know what, to protect our kids, we do need mandatory masking and that message was not presented.”

‘Masking has been politicized’: nurse

Stewart said all HHS clinical facilities have a mandatory masking policy in place.

Hamilton’s medical officer of health recently said the city isn’t considering implementing a mask mandate unless the province makes the move.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, said recently a provincial mandate is needed.

“I, along with peers, continue to advocate for provincial action on masking,” he said. “Provincial mandates are needed for a provincewide risk.”

Archibald-Varley said wearing a mask in public is an effective way to reduce the spread of RSV and the flu, but the stigma surrounding mask wearing may be discouraging parents from covering up. 

“Masking now has become a symbol that… has a lot of negative connotations, which is kind of unfortunate because it should have never been politicized,” she said, adding that wearing a mask to stop the spread of viruses should be as normalized as wearing a toque to protect yourself from the cold. 

“We’re not seeing the majority of folks wearing masks right now,” said Archibald-Varley, who is also a parent to three children.

“We are in a situation that needs dire attention. These are children’s lives. These are our future, and we have to do everything that we can to protect that,” she said. 


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