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Ottawa, Kitchener hospitals saw record numbers of patients admitted this week

Ambulances are parked outside the Emergency Department at the Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus in Ottawa on Monday, May 16, 2022. Two hospitals in southern Ontario -- Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa and Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont. -- say they saw record numbers of patients on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Two southern Ontario hospitals saw record numbers of patients this week, with factors at play ranging from respiratory illnesses to slips and falls commonly seen this time of year.

Tuesday was an exceptionally busy day at Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa and Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont., the hospitals said.

"It certainly wasn't the record that we wanted to hit, having the busiest day at the hospital in 47 years," said Yvonne Wilson, vice president of patient care and chief nursing executive at Queensway Carleton. "But things have been building a bit, certainly through the fall."

In a statement released this week, Queensway Carleton said it cared for 361 patients that day. It did not specify the reason for the increased volume but said patients with respiratory symptoms who don't require urgent care should go to a local assessment centre instead.

Wilson said the hospital has recently been seeing a higher number of admissions in the ER compared to pre-pandemic — and the usual lull they see over the December holidays didn't happen.

"We've been seeing about 240 to 250 patients coming through our (ER), and pre-pandemic we averaged around 200 to 220," Wilson said. "So that makes a big difference, having that extra volume." 

Respiratory illnesses such as influenza, COVID-19 and RSV have been a factor, she said, but the hospital has also seen more mental health admissions and patients who had been unwell for extended periods of time.

In Kitchener, Ont., Grand River Hospital said it cared for 295 patients in its emergency room on Tuesday.

"This is the highest volume we have ever seen and is the result of population growth, increased respiratory illnesses and weather related slips and falls," the hospital said in a social media post.

The hospital's previous record was 269 patients in one day, said Stuart Paavola, director of the emergency department, the medicine program and the stroke program at Grand River. 

"We saw quite a few people coming in (Tuesday) with slips and trips and falls type of injuries, so upper and lower extremity injuries and things of that nature," he said, also citing the "triple whammy" of respiratory viruses as a factor.

Paavola said there were 179 total ER patients two days later, further illustrating the severity of Tuesday's spike. But he anticipates the volumes continuing to rise in the short-term future.

"We've been seeing that pretty steady month-over-month, that the number of visits goes up compared to the previous month," said Paavola. 

Other hospitals in Ontario have also reported spikes in patient admissions this week. 

St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener said it saw 184 patients on Tuesday compared to an average of 160 on a standard day. 

"In general, hospitals continue to see more patients seeking care than we typically would and this week we saw a spike due to the icy conditions and injuries sustained by falls," said Dayna Giorgio, manager of communications at St. Mary's.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Memorial Hospital in Cambridge, Ont., said the hospital has been over 100 per cent capacity in its medical and surgical units recently.

"We're seeing … anywhere between 120 and 130 (patients admitted) a day," said Stephanie Pearsall, vice president of clinical programs and chief nursing executive at the hospital.

Patients have been showing up sicker too, she said, which can make for longer stays.

Halton Healthcare said its three hospitals — Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, Milton District Hospital and Georgetown Hospital — have all been busier lately as well.

"While the increase is not attributable to just one factor, it is reflective of a seasonal surge of influenza that is typically noticeable after the holiday season," said Cindy McDonell, senior vice president of clinical operations, in a statement.

"This is compounded by the addition of COVID illness that is still present in our communities." 

Wait times for emergency room visits skyrocketed at hospitals across the province in the fall amid a surge in respiratory illnesses as well as ongoing staffing shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2023.

Jessica Smith, The Canadian Press

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