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Sault Area Hospital planning return of non-urgent surgeries

The most recent hospital budget update shows a $1-million surplus year-to-date, versus an expected $3.2-million deficit
20200301-Sault Area Hospital, winter, stock-DT-01
File photo. Sault Area Hospital (SAH). Darren Taylor/SooToday

Management at Sault Area Hospital is in the planning stages of restarting non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures, as reported at the most recent meeting of the SAH Board of Directors.

COVID-positive patients have been in the care of SAH since before Christmas, said Sue Roger, vice-president clinical operations and chief nursing executive, during Monday’s meeting of the board.

“They have been cared for in both intensive care and internal medicine,” said Roger about the most recent hospitalizations. “We have had a paediatric patient and we have had a withdrawal management patient, however they have been short stays with us.”

In an email, Brandy Sharp Young, manager of communications and media services for SAH noted the hospital has cared for several COVID-positive patients in those departments throughout the pandemic.

Since Jan. 4, the hospital is still operating under the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s Directive 2, which requires hospitals to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures.

At SAH, only cancer and emergent urgent surgeries and procedures have continued since then. Roger said the hospital is planning to incrementally restart all surgeries.

“Likely in alignment with the economic opening of the province, however we don’t have direction at this time,” she said.

Currently there are 45 active positive cases of COVID-19 within the health care workers at the hospital, while 16 more are isolating at home with a positive household contact.

This has put significant strain on the hospital’s human resources in all categories — staff, physicians and health care workers — said Roger.

“We continue to have new case positivity in health care workers and deployment across departments has been essential in helping us to maintain our in-patient areas,” she said.

The most recent staff outbreak, which was contained to two staff members in the Emergency Department, was declared over as of Sunday. 

Sharp Young said the ED staff members acquired the infection from an encounter with a staff member, who acquired their infection from the community.

Roger said most of the staff infections are acquired within the community and once one member of a family is infected, it tends to move quickly.

“By the time the first person recovered, everyone has been sick through the household,” she said.

In some cases, asymptomatic staff are able to return to work.

“Dependant on factors of how long their household has been from their first positive,” said Roger. “So there are lots of factors and what we have learned is every household is individual.”

Roger noted that Ontario’s Health minister Christine Elliott said last week the current wave is likely to peak within the next two to three weeks.

“So we are one week down, two weeks to go, I would say,” said Roger.

The most recent financial report presented to the board on Monday showed a $1-million budget surplus year-to-date, versus an expected $3.2-million deficit.

The $4.2-million reversal in fortune is due primarily to the hospital receiving more funding than was expected for COVID-related expenses from the Ministry of Health, in the face of  lower than anticipated volume-based funding, which continues for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“As we get into the end of this year, we are approaching a balanced budget,” said finance committee member Joe Santa Maria.