Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital (OSMH) currently has 20 people in the hospital suffering from COVID-19, Carmine Stumpo, the hospital's president and CEO said during a virtual community meeting Wednesday evening.
Stumpo, along with three key OSMH staff members, briefed the public on the local response to the surge of the Omicron variant during the third virtual “Fireside Chat,” which was attended by more than 40 people.
“What we are seeing today is 3,444 individuals hospitalized in Ontario with COVID. That number has steadily increased over the last several weeks, and we’ve also seen 550 individuals in ICUs in the province with COVID, which has been at a day-over-day increase of about 60 to 70 patients,” Stumpo explained.
“Currently as of this morning we had 20 individuals in OSMH with COVID, and none of those 20 were in the ICU,” said Stumpo, who credits vaccines for keeping ICU rates low during the Omicron surge.
“I could not imagine what the system would be like with the absence of vaccines, preventing serious complications of COVID. I know there is a lot of debate about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron, and I want to reassure everyone on this call that it is certainly improving the health of our community,” he said.
Stumpo says OSMH has opened up additional beds during the Omicron surge and they have also converted spaces such as rehab areas into patient care areas.
“The space is a challenge. We are struggling to find space, but the larger challenge is our staffing challenges. As the community transmission goes up, we see the same within our organization,” he said.
“As of this morning, we had 40 individuals of our team that have been affected by COVID and recovered. We currently have 37 individuals who are off with COVID, and another 14 that are currently being investigated for symptoms of COVID," said Stumpo.
"On top of that we have another 68 individuals who have been at a high-risk exposure but are not showing any symptoms," he explained.
“On any given day, having 50 individuals that are off due to COVID far exceeds our usual sick calls. Plus, there are other reasons people may not be able to attend work, which is having a dramatic impact.”
Stumpo noted that OSMH has partnered with the City of Orillia, Casino Rama and Georgian College to identify individuals who have been temporarily laid off and hired for temporary, full-time roles at OSMH to help during the current wave. (Click here to read our story about this.)
“It’s helping us get extra hands in the organization, it allows us to re-purpose other staff into positions like pandemic support aid, which helps our nurses directly provide supports to our patients. It also creates employment for those individuals who have had their lives disrupted, and it helps the community at large support those individuals,” he said.
Cheryl Harrison, the hospital's executive vice president of patient care and people strategy, addressed the province's Jan. 5 decision to cancel scheduled non-urgent and emergent surgeries.
“The words 'urgent' and 'emergent' deserve to have a little more context around them, as do scheduled surgeries. For folks worried about if they have a high priority cancer or family member, those are definitely included as emergent and urgent, as do broken bones, and other time-sensitive surgeries that can’t wait,” Harrison explained.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that scheduled surgeries are important, too," said Harrison. "We know it’s discouraging for people to have to wait to have certain surgeries such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals. We want the community to be assured that at OSMH we are doing everything we can behind the scenes to get ready for ramp-up.”
Dr. Nancy Merrow, the hospital's chief of staff, talked about the use of the emergency department and when it’s appropriate to access it during the pandemic.
“The reasons to go to the emergency department have probably not changed. Chest pain, shortness of breath, serious injury, bleeding, serious abdominal pain, those reasons are why you would want someone you care about to be seen in an emergency setting and it hasn’t changed throughout COVID,” Merrow said.
“Severe respiratory distress is the main reason someone with COVID would need to come to the emergency department," she explained.
"I think people have been wanting to seek care for the reassurance of knowing if it’s COVID or not, and how serious will it be. Now that a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated, we have a much lower level of concern with COVID, even if you get it progressing rapidly and leading to hospitalizing and ICU admission," Merrow said.
Dr. Sarah Barker, pediatrician and medical director at OSMH, addressed the pandemic’s impact on local families and children.
“We all worry about our children and families and the pandemic has certainly given us many more things to worry about. Different families worry about different things, and that’s natural,” she said.
“As you may have heard, COVID, fortunately, doesn’t cause serious illness in children, nor has there been a significant increase in hospitalization due to COVID. Generally, what we are seeing in pediatrics is other viruses such as RSV which affects young babies, and that is bringing kids into the hospital,” she said.
The only children in the hospital with COVID are children who have other health complications and young babies, Barker said.
“Any baby under two or three months who has a fever has to be assessed because they are at risk for a whole bunch of different infections, and COVID is one of those things,” she said.
“We will admit a baby with COVID just like we would admit any baby with a fever just to make sure they are OK, and so far, every baby we have admitted has turned out to be OK," said Barker.
"When we know the mother has been vaccinated during pregnancy, we are much more confident about how that baby is going to do. If the parents are un-vaccinated there is a greater risk for the child.”
To conclude the event, Stumpo thanked the guest panelists and community members who logged onto Zoom to virtually attend the event. He also reiterated OSMH’s commitment to keeping the community safe during the pandemic.
“These are incredibly trying times and I’m incredibly proud with how our team has responded over the last two years,” he said.
"We feel engaging with our community is an absolute essential element of what we need to do to get through this pandemic together.”