With relatively low COVID-19 activity in the region, Quinte Health Care’s president says she’s most concerned about the effects of pandemic-related disruptions to health care.
President and chief executive officer Stacey Daub told The Intelligencer many people are still either delaying their own care or dealing with disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been the complete disruption of our system and the usual patterns that have been in place for years and years,” Daub said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
“Every sector has been impacted by the pandemic.
“Home care, community care, primary care … It’s not just the hospital. It’s all of those services which keep people healthy and connected to their community.
“If I was to think about what I’m most worried about, it’s that,” she said.
For those concerned about contracting COVID-19 while visiting the hospital, officials with QHC and elsewhere have said repeatedly the risk is low. They say anyone with a health concern should contact their primary-care provider or go to a walk-in clinic – or, if needed, the hospital.
“We are providing safe care and we are here to take care of them,” Dr. Leandra Grieve-Eglin, chief and medical director of internal medicine and intensive care, said in December.
Tuesday saw no patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection in QHC hospitals.
Yet the corporation as a whole was operating at nine per cent above its funded capacity and acute-care units were at 27 per cent beyond capacity.
“Overall I think we are in a much better place than we were in January, for sure,” said Daub.
But she added there continue to be pressure points, particularly in emergency units and in trying to discharge hospital patients elsewhere, such as to long-term care homes or home care.
“People are coming in sicker,” she said.
“We are seeing people coming in later stages of cancer.”
Before the pandemic, hospitals tended to see range, from low to high, in the acuity (severity) of patients’ conditions.
“We’re seeing more of the medium to high all the time.”
Daub said it appears people are seeking, or receiving, care later – either due to their own reluctance amid the pandemic or because they can’t get the care they need.
“The people who are coming to the hospital are more likely to be admitted … and they’re more likely to stay longer.”
She said they often have more complex conditions than in the past. Asked whether they’re also more likely to die, Daub said that wasn’t known.
Local data are still being analyzed in an attempt to better understand the capacity crunch, she said.
Bottlenecks in discharging patients – for example, because of a lack of home care resources or more restrictions in the long-term care system – are one reason why some patients are remaining in hospitals for longer periods.
That puts them at risk of deterioration, said Daub. In one case, said Daub, staff at North Hastings Hospital brought in a new exercise machine to help a patient with dementia to maintain the person’s physical condition.
“I think our teams are exemplary,” the administrator said in describing the work underway to improve patients’ quality of life while hospitalized.
“We have worked hard to open up our visitor policy” to allow patients loved ones to be “more involved in their care,” she added.
Patients requiring an alternate level of care are still being discharged to Belleville’s Quinte Gardens retirement home while they await care elsewhere, an arrangement Daub said is working well and may have the potential for expansion.
Daub said she is concerned about the pandemic’s ongoing effects and potential aftermath aside from coronavirus infection.
Isolation for seniors, a lack of mental health support, and a lack of activities for people with developmental disabilities are among those, she said.
“We need to make sure everyone who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Daub.
“The vaccine has provided a real step in the direction of hope and renewal. As a community we really need to focus on that.”
That focus means maximizing vaccination opportunities, she said.
Quinte Health Care is now vaccinating health care workers – and only health care workers – in the high-, very high-, and high-priority groups – with appointment bookings offered on its website at qhc.on.ca.