Hospitals in Ontario prepare for Omicron’s impact as hundreds of employees report sick

Hospitals and clinics throughout Ontario are preparing for the effects of the Omicron variant, according to the Medical Director of Occupational Health Services at the University Health Network (UHN).

Dr. John Granton said the county’s health care system is already showing signs of strain, with about 100 UHN employees reporting sick each day.

As Omicron cases continue to rise, the number of admissions is expected to increase. This influx has likely been amplified by holiday gatherings over the past few weeks, Granton said.

“We’re seeing the consequence of it now and we’ll continue to see it probably for the next 10 days,” he said. “I think we really have to do everything to try to keep the machine running.”

As hundreds of staff report sick each day, hospitals and clinics across the province are relocating staff to ensure emergency services, including intensive care units, remain operational. As a result, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health reports Dr. Kieran Moore that thousands of procedures – those not related to COVID – will be delayed per week.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, right, Health Minister Christine Elliott, center right, and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy attend a press conference in Toronto on Monday, January 3, 2022. Staff shortages threaten to invalidate Ontario’s health system as the Omicron variant drives infections. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

“Generally, what we would look at through a typical week would be somewhere between eight to ten thousand surgeries or other procedures that would be affected by this,” Moore said at a news conference Monday morning.

Over the next few weeks, all sectors are likely to see about 20 to 30 percent of workers get sick, Moore said.

Although it includes health care, the doctor also said that measures are in place to get health workers back to work as soon as possible.

These measures include allowing employees to isolate themselves for a shorter period of time than they would have to with previous variants of the virus, Granton said.

“We are not keeping them away for 10 days or two weeks anymore. We can probably just keep them away for five days,” he said. “I think we feel a little more reassured … If this was Delta with the same amount of effect on making people sick, we would be very scared.”

The government is slow to respond, some proponents say

But there is still cause for concern, said Dr. Lisa Salamon from Ontario’s Scarborough Health Network to CBC News.

“We’re going to have a really tough four to six weeks,” she said. “It’s a huge spillover effect when we have staff shortages all the way down from the intensive care unit to the hospital wards to the emergency rooms.”

Staff shortages are nothing new during the pandemic, and Salamon said it is frustrating to see the government react slowly.

“Two years into this, it’s really very frustrating,” she said. “We saw this happen three weeks ago, four weeks ago, probably. And it’s very frustrating that now that things are really just out of control, they’re suddenly making the decision [to go back to Step Two of the province’s reopening plan]. ”

The Ontario government announced Monday that the province would return to step two of its reopening roadmap.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a press conference in Toronto on Monday, January 3, 2022. Ontario is facing a shortage of healthcare professionals as the Omicron variant continues to rise. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

The new measures include additional restrictions on social gatherings, closure of indoor dining in restaurants, closure of gyms and relocation of all students to online learning for at least two weeks.

“We are facing a tsunami of new cases in the coming days and weeks,” Premier Doug Ford told a news conference. “We need to make sure we protect our healthcare professionals to make sure they will be able to go into the hospitals and support people who come in.”

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a Canadian health professional union, told CBC News that she does not feel the province has followed the advice of those working in the front line.

“Today is a sad day for the province of Ontario,” she said. “These are all reactionary positions that the government is taking. They need to be proactive.”

Health unions have been trying to work closely with the government for over two years, Stewart said, and she wants to see a proactive plan going forward, in addition to the current increase in COVID cases.

“It’s going to take longer than two weeks to get us out of this,” she said. “We have to work together to find a solution … to make sure we are not caught this way again.”

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