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Latest COVID wave ‘playing havoc’ with RVH staffing levels: Skot

‘We have more absences now than we’ve had throughout the entire pandemic,’ says Barrie hospital president

Well into the sixth wave of COVID-19, Barrie’s hospital continues to be challenged, not necessarily by patient volume but with the number of staff members not able to make it into work.

On Monday, 195 Royal Victoria Regional Health Center (RVH) employees and physicians reported off work, representing 5.3 per cent of its entire workforce. That includes 96 front-line nurses, or 7.4 per cent of RVH’s nursing complement, as well as seven physicians.

Some of the other staff members not able to make it into the workplace because of COVID-19 infection or exposure were able to work from home.

The absences may impact the hospital’s ability to provide care, says RVH president Janice Skot.

“This part of this wave is new. It’s really playing havoc with our ability to have enough percentage of our staff on site to make sure we can do all of our operations and all of our clinics and all of our responsibility,” she said.

In a recent message to the community, Skot warned that it could mean a last-minute cancellation of scheduled surgeries. Last week, 25 surgical procedures were cancelled, although all three endoscopy rooms were in operation.

Since January, more than 1,600 surgical cases have been postponed. There is an estimated backlog of 7,000 surgical cases as a result of the pandemic. RVH conducts about 15,000 surgeries per year.

The limiting factor in attending the scheduled surgeries and making a dent into the backlog is health and resources, said Skot, adding that everyone is exhausted by the ongoing pandemic. She liked it to run a series of marathons back-to-back.

Skot said the local hospital is not operating at a crisis level. Instead, it’s a day-by-day analysis that is largely based on the ability to fully staff various areas within the hospital.

Every morning, the entire organization and staffing levels is reviewed, as is bed availability. Skot calls it a delicate balance.

On Monday, all 11 operating rooms remained open and there had been no cancellations.

Meanwhile, there were 33 patients with COVID-19 at RVH on Monday, 19 of them active and 14 resolved and none in intensive care.

Last week averaged 30 cases, with 22 active and eight resolved, with one person in intensive care.

“Wave 6 is very different from other waves,” said Skot. “Hospitalizations are up, but it’s not that sharp trajectory that we saw with those earlier waves. But the impact on Team RVH is far greater. We have more absences now than we’ve had throughout the entire pandemic.”

The emergency department took the biggest hit on Monday, with more absences there. Combined with higher volumes, the net result could be some delays in emergencies.

There is no plan at this point to cancel other services, although the situation is being regularly monitored.

Meanwhile, the hospital has been running a field hospital in its parking lot since November 2020, intended to help absorb any overflows from other hospitals during the pandemic. It accommodates roughly 10 to 15 medical or post-operative patients daily for a total of 1,700 patients so far. It is also limited by health human resources.

Skot says RVH has tried to ensure staff members are getting the help they need through a peer-to-peer support program run through trained volunteer staff members called Resiliency In Stressful Events.

RVH’s Lavender Cart with comfort items like tea, coffee, food and coloring books can be rolled to various areas in the hospital allowing staff to occasionally gather together. It was originally created for crisis events, but has been used during the pandemic for employees who feel it will help ease some of the stress.

Skot emphasized that the hospital remains open for business and is available to anyone requiring attention.