By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chatham-Kent Health Alliance finds itself in a holding pattern as COVID-19 continues to slam Chatham-Kent.
President and CEO Lori Marshall said it’s possible the hospital may need to transfer more critically ill patients out to other facilities – a move unprecedented in earlier waves of the pandemic.
Marshall told reporters four patients have been transferred so far. Two went to London Tuesday, a third went to London Wednesday and another was sent to Windsor.
In the meantime in Chatham, hospital occupancy hovers at 96 per cent in the critical care department
Some 90 per cent of the 33 COVID-positive patients at the alliance are unvaccinated, with 10 needing critical care. Six COVID patients are in the ICU, five whom are on ventilators.
All of the ventilated patients are unvaccinated, Marshall said.
“The burden of significant illness in hospital we’re seeing is in the unvaccinated population,” she explained, noting the average age of in-patients is 69 years.
The impact of COVID-19 is also being felt in terms of staffing levels, which in turn limits the number of critically ill patients that can be treated.
Marshall said 123 employees are affected. A total of 24 employees have COVID-19, while 54 are symptomatic awaiting test results.
According to Marshall, a few employees are working from home and an additional 45 are “work isolating” – able to come in and do their jobs without being exposed to others.
Because the hospital has paused all non-emergent surgeries under a directive from Ontario Health, Marshall said the redeployment of staff has allowed CKHA to create an “all hand’s on deck” approach to care.
And while the omicron variant has been deemed by some to be milder, Marshall said the length of stay for a critically ill patient requiring a ventilator or oxygen support is similar to previous waves.
Officials say the number of people who are in hospital with the virus indicates the severity of the wave and that all public health measures – including vaccinations – are being enacted to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Now that the province is no longer recording all COVID-19 cases, Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health said the number of cases in hospital is the only metric that matters.
Dr. David Colby pointed out the unvaccinated are “over represented” in the hospital population.
“The importance of getting vaccinated is greater than ever,” Colby said.
Over at the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, COVID-19 is impacting staff as well. CAO Don Shropshire there are 18 municipal employees with COVID-19 with another 68 in self-isolation.
Shropshire said more than 95 per cent of employees have been immunized. Unlike the hospital, the municipality does not have a mandatory vaccination policy.