CKHA being strategic about surgeries to keep more hospital beds open

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Officials at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) are reporting that surgical procedures are somewhat back to normal but hospital beds are quickly filling up.

President and CEO Lori Marshall said surgical volumes are at around 95 per cent of what they were pre-pandemic and that more than 90 per cent of hospital beds are currently being used.

Marshall said one of the biggest challenges at the hospital right now is trying to determine what to do with 37 Alternate Level of Care (ALC) patients. Those are patients who must stay longer because they’re waiting for their next level of care, by either waiting for a bed at a long term care home or a retirement home or waiting to return home with supportive care.

Vice President of Clinical Programs and Operations Caen Suni said the ALC numbers are higher than what CKHA normally sees and higher than surrounding hospitals. Suni also said work is underway to remedy the ALC problem.

“We are seeing an increase over and above what we are typically used to. Our occupancy in in-patient units is unseasonably higher as a result. It hasn’t meant we’ve had to reduce any of our procedures or surgeries, it just means it’s something we’re keeping an eye on,” Suni said. “We’re working hard with our local long term care partners to make sure that patients can go on to their next destination of care and that might be long term care. We’re hoping that movement starts to occur over the month of October as we enter the flu season and potentially a second wave of the COVID pandemic.”

Marshall said the philosophy surrounding surgeries has recently changed a bit with a better mix of out-patient surgeries being done to keep more beds open.

“We’ve changed the type of surgeries we’ve been doing more recently and some of that relates to doing more out-patient and ambulatory surgery because that has less of an impact to our beds,” Marshall said.

The Ontario government announced $741 million in funding on Friday to help clear the backlog of surgeries and build more capacity in the health care system to effectively manage surges and outbreaks of COVID-19 cases but CKHA officials are still waiting on details about their piece of the pie.

Suni said testing numbers at the CKHA COVID-19 Assessment Centre have also doubled recently to more than 220 a day and some are children with the sniffles. He added it is difficult to differentiate between the flu and the novel coronavirus and expects to see more people between four and 17 years of age at the testing site in the future. CKHA was doing up to 500 COVID-19 tests a day during the peak of the pandemic.