The main entrance sign at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. (File photo by Jake Kislinsky)The main entrance sign at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. (File photo by Jake Kislinsky)

CKHA managing peaks and valleys of patient admissions and surgeries

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) says the number of patient admissions from its Emergency Departments (ED) to the hospital have been rising, but the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 surge has peaked and is trending down.

CKHA Vice President of Clinical Programs and Operations Caen Suni told a media conference on Monday that patient admissions from the EDs in Chatham  and Wallaceburg to the hospital have increased by three per cent each month, which means two to three patients per day.

Suni also said that, in December, both EDs experienced the lowest average daily rates in the past fiscal year, meaning that patients are sicker. He noted flu, RSV, and COVID-19 cases in children showing up at the hospitals dropped by 50 per cent from December to January and flu, RSV, and COVID-19 illness in adults decreased by 30 per cent at the hospitals during that same period.

Suni said the number of children admitted to the hospitals in December jumped by 25 per cent compared to the same month a year ago and that 77 per cent of those were respiratory cases.

Suni said the downward trend is a good sign that the community is getting though the sick season.

"The trends are pointing towards a decrease, which we're thankful for as the community bounces back from seasonal illness," said Suni.

Suni also mentioned that surgery wait times at CKHA are much lower than the rest of the Ontario Health West region, which is made up of 30 hospitals in Southwestern Ontario. He said 48 per cent of the total cases waiting for surgery in Southwestern Ontario don't meet the target date and must wait longer for their procedure while that number is 12 per cent at CKHA.

He admitted that some surgeries at CKHA had to be cancelled in November and December because of seasonal illness, but they were re-booked rather quickly and without much inconvenience. CKHA reported 62 procedures have been rescheduled since the start of the fiscal year with 32 surgeries or 52 per cent of these procedures cancelled in November and December because of a very "challenging occupancy period."

"Of the 29 surgical programs in Ontario Health West, CKHA is consistently among the top five surgical programs with the lowest percentage of patients designated as long-waiters for a procedure," CKHA said.

The staff vacancy rate at CKHA is also getting better. CKHA Chief Nursing Executive Meredith Whitehead told reporters it's down to 7.4 per cent compared to eight per cent staff vacancy about six months ago. Whitehead noted the average staff vacancy reported by the Ontario Hospital Association is 10 per cent and the hospital staff vacancy in the Southwest region is 9.9 per cent. She said Registered Nurses and Registered Practical Nurses are in most demand at CKHA much like the rest of the province.

Whitehead said programs are underway to retain and recruit much needed nurses.

CKHA CEO Lori Marshall said the organization is also trying to better understand what impact private clinics will have on hospital recruiting.

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