Local hospitals face shortage of 1,400 workers

Local hospitals face shortage of 1,400 workers

By Gordon Lambie

On Friday afternoon the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS provided its first update on the local COVID-19 situation since Mid December, highlighting the fact that as the public works to control the spread of the virus, the same challenge is being faced by the healthcare administration. According to Yan Belzile, the Director of human resources, communications, and legal affairs with the CIUSSS, there is an average of about 1,400 staff out of work on any given day because of Covid.

“We see about 100 new cases reported daily, and about 100 people coming back to work at the same time,” he said, explaining that this equilibrium is expected to continue for at least another two weeks.

Although the healthcare administration was given authorization at the end of last year to call Covid-positive employees back before the end of their 10-day isolation period, Belzile said that the CIUSSS has only done this in the case of 40 employees to date because of the increased risks it represents.

Stéphane Tremblay, the chief executive officer of the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS, said that despite the fact that region has been operating at the fourth and highest level of temporary service reductions for over a week in the name of freeing up resources to ensure care for both urgent needs and Covid response, the healthcare establishment is not yet at the breaking point.

Although he shared that 119 of the 130 beds freed up in the Townships for Covid patients were occupied, along with 23 of 24 intensive care spaces, the administrator argued that the system is working on adaptating to a new way of approaching things in light of the fact that the Omicron variant appears to present with less severe infection in most cases.

Tremblay presented the additional ward opened in Granby last week as an example of this adaptation, sharing that there is a greater emphasis being placed on treating Covid-positive patients in their own communities rather than transferring them to dedicated centres in Sherbrooke. He made reference to the idea of ‘secondary’ Covid cases that was brought up last week, explaining that somewhere in the area of 20 out of the 119 hospitalizations recorded for the region are people who were admitted for other medical issues and tested positive as a part of their admission process.

While these individuals require a different kind of care, because of the presence of the virus in their systems, Tremblay explained that they don’t tax the system in the same way because they present as either asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms.

“It is not their primary health concern,” he said, speculating that within six months it may be the norm for hospitals across the region to be treating patients for unrelated health conditions with the understanding that they also have some form of Covid, similar to what has happened in the past with the influenza virus.

He did, however, also acknowledge that there are now over 12,000 people on waiting lists for surgery in the Townships.

According to Regional Public Health Director Dr. Alain Poirier, there were 621 new known cases reported on Friday, and close to 100 active outbreaks being tracked across the region. There were also seven new deaths, making the local total 427. The number of known active cases in the Townships on Thursday was 4,839.

Poirier said that the Eastern Townships is no longer the province’s hotspot, but more as a result of infection rates rising in other areas than because the situation here is any better.

The local report also mentioned that there were more than 6,000 vaccinations taking place per day in the region as of Friday, with a new vaccination strategy set to be announced at the start of this week.

Across Quebec, the vaccination rate for 5 to 11-year-olds reached 58 per cent for a first dose as of Sunday, with 23 per cent of the population having received a third dose.

As of Monday, Jan. 10, everyone 40 and older is eligible to receive the third dose. That expands to those 35 and older as of Jan. 12, everyone 25 and older on Jan. 14, and everyone 18 and older as of Jan.17.

On another local front, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) issued a notice on Friday that 11 inmates and 27 staff members at the Cowansville Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. The advisory mentions that COVID-19 testing is being offered to inmates and staff as part of an effort to control the spread. Employees are required to do a rapid test and provide a negative result before entering the site to prevent possible spread at the institution.

To date, 84.2 per cent of inmates at the Cowansville Institution are fully vaccinated and 86.5 per cent have received at least one dose.

Following last Thursday’s announcement of expanded vaccine passport requirements to come at businesses across Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé said that registration for first-dose appointments increased from around 1,500 per day to over 6,000 by Friday.

The Province of Quebec reported 43,111 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and another 94 deaths. The number of hospitalizations across Quebec increased to 2,436, with 257 in intensive care.

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