Backlog of delayed surgery continues at partly empty hospital

Bluewater Health. Troy Shantz file photo

Troy Shantz

Bluewater Health’s focus on saving the lives of COVID-19 patients has meant postponing the health needs of many other local residents.

And though Ontario released new guidelines Thursday to ease the backlog, it’s not clear when X-rays, treatments and testing will return to normal, says president and CEO Mike Lapaine.

“We recognize that hundreds of people have not had their anticipated treatments, tests or surgeries,” he said. “We are committed to ramping up as quickly as we can, safely, and in alignment with provincial direction.”

Mike Lapaine

It was almost two months ago Ontario instructed hospitals to cancel non-urgent surgeries and visits to free up space and resources for an expected flood of COVID-19 patients.

Bluewater Health was treating as many as 32 patients infected with the deadly virus in early April. But the Sarnia site had just seven cases Saturday and is operating at about 50% capacity.

Under a new provincial framework announced Thursday, hospitals can ramp up to 85% capacity once a region can show it has a stable caseload with an adequate supply of protective equipment, medication, and beds.

“It’s extremely important that we take a very thoughtful and measured approach to slowly ‘turning the tap back on’ in hospitals,” Lapaine said.

“The pandemic is not over, and while we never saw the overwhelming crisis that presented itself in other countries, we need to ensure that whatever steps we take now don’t create a second wave.”

Ontario has reportedly seen as many as 50,000 operations and non-urgent treatments of all kinds postponed during the pandemic. As many as 35 people may have died while awaiting surgery, Ontario’s health minister has said.

Lapaine said five of the hospital’s seven operating rooms are not being used, and he is growing anxious about the local backlog.

But it’s not clear when things will change. The province says the timeline will vary from hospital to hospital and be conditional on approval by a regional oversight body.

“I’m hoping it’s imminent but it’s not really our call,” Lapaine said.

(The government) looks at the picture provincially, and we could be in good shape here in Lambton but our neighbours might not be.”