Tuesday 2 June 2020

Planning a gradual and cautious ramp-up for resuming hospital services

Our everyday lives have changed dramatically with the COVID-19 global pandemic and the same is true for hospital operations. Over the past two months, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) has been nimble to implementing service changes to do our part to contain community transmission of COVID-19, to preserve critical resources for when they are most needed, and most importantly to keep our patients, staff and physicians safe. 

To ensure hospitals in Ontario had enough beds to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients, scheduled, non-urgent surgeries and procedures were paused in mid-March. Visitor restrictions were implemented, and our hospital auxiliary members stepped away from their volunteering duties. We put in place screening measures and made infrastructure changes to be able to expand our limited number of private rooms to meet isolation precautions for a highly infectious virus. Though it may have seemed that scaling back services meant less activity in the hospitals, our teams were implementing and adjusting to doing different things, or at a minimum doing things differently. Every function changed in one way or another. It was not business as usual for our staff, and I am exceptionally proud of every member of our team for their hard work, dedication and courage during an incredibly unprecedented and extraordinary time.

Redeployed Diagnostic Imaging staff spend time "spring cleaning",
 safely purging thousands of imaging films that no longer
have to be stored under health information retention rules.

As the Province of Ontario takes steps to reopen the economy, the health care world is also assessing its readiness and preparing plans for a gradual and cautious reopening process. This will not happen with the flip of a switch, nor will it be a one-size-fits-all ramp-up plan. We all must recognize the pandemic continues while we co-exist with COVID-19, safety precautions will continue for some time, and there will be a new normal for all of us.

Hospitals and their regional partners are figuring out together where, when and how scheduled care can safely resume for waiting patients. We appreciate the frustration and angst that delays in care have caused, and we too want to provide care as soon as possible. Regardless, our top priority is to make sure everyone will be safe when they return to the hospitals, and this includes making more changes that will protect against the spread of the virus, like respecting the ongoing need for physical distancing and other public health measures. Recovery planning is not just about restoring what we had the way it was, but also about rethinking and redesigning how we provide care in the future to reduce safety risks, embrace virtual care, and remain ready to respond to unexpected COVID-19 surges.

The government, which must approve our plan, has set out strict criteria that must be met before hospitals can resume elective surgeries. For example: the number of COVID-19 cases in the region must be manageable; hospitals must ensure they have enough protective equipment, medication, staff and community-based services to care for recovering patients; and we can’t start to ramp-up if our inpatient occupancy rate is above 85 per cent.

This message reinforces that health care has changed dramatically over the past two months, resuming services will take weeks not days and hospital operations will look very different as we move forward. At the appropriate time, patients will be contacted by the hospital or their physician’s office to advise them when their procedure will be scheduled. And in the meantime we encourage everyone to continue with self-isolation precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, continue to flatten the curve and avoid the potential for a second wave. Stay updated as the situation at MAHC changes by visiting www.mahc.ca/COVID-19/

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