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‘We’ve had two stormy weeks’ - Hospital dealing with COVID-related staff absences

SAH recruits three much-needed specialists; hopes for balanced end to 2021-22 fiscal year
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Sault Area Hospital. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Sault Area Hospital is carrying on despite reports of COVID-positive staff, its doctors monitoring COVID-positive patients in ICU.

“I am glad to report after a couple of stormy weeks in the hospital we are seeing some improvement in our staff absence related to COVID,” said Sue Roger, SAH vice president of clinical operations and chief nursing executive addressing the SAH board of directors at its monthly meeting held virtually Monday.

More than 80 staff were off with COVID recently, Roger told the board.

“We are seeing staff recovery which is helping out significantly.”

Roger said four SAH units have experienced COVID outbreaks since the last board of directors meeting in March.

Those units are Transition House - a rehabilitation home providing 24-hour supportive care to adults diagnosed with a severe mental illness - as well as 3B, 3C and 1B. 

Transition House is out of outbreak, while 3B and 3C are set to come out of outbreak status May 1.

1B is up to seven COVID-positive patients as of Monday, that unit projected to come out of outbreak May 3.

“There's a lot in the news about ICU numbers,” Roger noted.

Across the province on Monday, there were 214 patients in ICUs, 24 in northern Ontario and four at SAH, Roger said.

“We’ve done very well over the period of the pandemic with this patient type in our ICU so we anticipate full recovery for all of these patients.”

Roger said there are no issues with “critical med supply” but that there are other supply chain problems facing the organization.

“So, we are diligent with the work that we’re doing, particularly our PPE and our single use equipment. We’re just making sure that we continue to move forward but there are some hiccups in the road most certainly,” Roger said.

Of the more than 80 SAH staff absent recently due to COVID, Roger said “it isn’t all units that are affected”

“We seem to have concentration of COVID-positive patients in ICU, and then as they recovered, 3A, or the operating room, became inundated with absence related to COVID. Today we’re at 66 absences but they are across the organization. It seems like every department regardless of whether they are clinical, support, non-clinical, administration, have had folks away and off site in past weeks certainly. Household contacts have been very closely monitored particularly as the children have gone back to school.”

Staff have been encouraged to call in regarding their health and perform rapid tests at home to ensure that they are negative before reporting to work.

“We haven’t had to move to a critical staffing model where some organizations have, where asymptomatic positive staff have had to come to work. We have not done that in this community. We haven’t had the need to date. We have had very tight staffing to be honest in almost every department in the organization, extending hours for staff who are willing to work. Sometimes it’s felt like a patchwork quilt day by day but we have managed to maintain all service and have not closed anything to our patients,” Roger said.

“It has been a long two years and it sounds like for the most part we’ve been extremely fortunate at Sault Area Hospital,” said Sharon Kirkpatrick, SAH board chair.  

In other hospital news:

New specialists are coming to SAH.

The hospital has successfully recruited two urologists and a gastroenterologist. All three specialists are anticipated to be in the Sault and working by September.

A general surgeon is leaving SAH but active recruitment is underway for a replacement. 11 candidates from across North America have been interviewed.

SAH administrators are still preparing the hospital’s 2022-23 budget, said Lisa Bell-Murray, board vice chair.

Feb. 2022 financial results show a deficit of just over $400,000 for SAH, compared to a planned budget deficit of just under $5 million.

That much better than anticipated result is due primarily to COVID related funding from the province to offset volume based funding, as the hospital could not perform certain procedures due to COVID restrictions over the past fiscal year.

“We do expect to have a balanced position as we approach and finalize our March 31st year end,” Bell-Murray said.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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