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Bluewater Health slammed in New Year; Patient volume more manageable this week

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Cathy Dobson

After a challenging post-holiday rush of patients, the demand for acute medical beds is more manageable this week, says Lisa Regan, vice-president of care transitions at Bluewater Health.

“Last week we saw a surge that started New Year’s weekend,” she said. Occupancy reached 98% and staff was “overwhelmed a bit by a number of challenges.”

Regan said occupancy at Bluewater Health generally hovers around 88 – 90%. But the number of patients seeking medical care spiked after the holiday.

They arrived at hospital very sick and with more complex health issues, she said.

At the same time, at least four local long term care facilities were locked down because of outbreaks, which interrupted the usual flow of hospital patients discharged to long term care homes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen 98% occupancy before,” said Regan. But Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 are traditionally the busiest days of the year at Bluewater Health, she added.

“I don’t know the reason. But we had 200 at the Sarnia emergency and another 60 in Petrolia. It’s as though people wait until after the holiday and then decide to come.”

The scarcity of beds meant some elective surgeries were cancelled last week to accommodate acute medical patients.

For now, the crisis appears to be over, occupancy is down to 91% and all surgeries are back on schedule.

But visits to Bluewater Health’s Emergency Department (ED) continue to be high. Patients presenting with various types of respiratory illness, others needing surgery, mental health and pediatric cases continue to keep ED staff very busy.

About 160 to 170 patients are seeking help at Sarnia’s ED every day right now, considerably more than the 140 to 150 patients a day before the pandemic.

Regan agreed the higher volume could be “our new normal.”

“January and February are typically very busy,” she said. “But we have no issues with staffing and our message continues to be the same: Always try to go to your primary caregiver (family doctor) first. The ED is for true emergencies but if you need help, come.”

Hospital patients testing positive for Covid-19 have not increased over the past month. For the month of December, moving into the first weeks of 2023, Bluewater Health has had about seven individuals with Covid on any given day.

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