The hospital has taken measures to mitigate the surge of viral infections and its impact on hospital capacity, including reducing surgeries by one-third and transferring teens to adult hospitals
In a media release on Nov. 1, Hamilton Health Sciences outlined the measures they were taking to handle the surge in hospital occupancy, including an emphasis on virtual care appointments to reduce unnecessary emergency department visits and working with regional hospital partners to optimize pediatric capacity in the region.
The most notable measure was the hospital’s decision to reduce the number of surgeries requiring hospital admission to five per week, or one per day. Instead, the hospital will focus on surgeries that do not require hospital admission, citing the lack of inpatient bed availability. These changes took effect on Nov. 4 and are expected to last at least four weeks, according to a memo obtained by Global News.
“These actions – including the decision to make further reductions in pediatric surgical activity – are only being taken because of the extraordinary pressure at [McMaster Children’s Hospital] and across the healthcare system,” said the media release.
Additionally, the hospital plans to consider transferring a greater number of adolescent patients out of the children’s hospital and into other HHS sites, if deemed medically appropriate, and to consider transferring children to other hospitals in the general region. This measure follows a province-wide recommendation from Ontario's critical care COVID-19 command centre for adult hospitals to accept children 14 and older from pediatric hospitals that need intensive care.
The unprecedented volume of hospital patients is being felt throughout the province. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto also might start transferring a small number of adolescents 14 and older, according to a statement obtained by The Globe and Mail.
A media briefing by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa discussed postponing some non-urgent surgeries, expanding staffing and clinic hours and hiring more staff to address the surges. Dr. Mona Jabbour, Interim Chief of Pediatrics at CHEO, attributed reduced immunity to RSV and the flu as reasons for increased surges.
“Because we did not see these viruses in the last few years, we’re seeing them all coming together to older children with reduced immunity. We’re seeing babies, toddlers, younger and older children getting sick. It’s all happening at the same time,” said Jabbour in the media briefing.
Hamilton Health Sciences urges residents to get their flu shots and up-to-date COVID vaccines and boosters to reduce the current surges in pediatric and adult hospitals.
With a more intense resurgence of the flu predicted to hit Canada this flu season, the Student Wellness Centre also recommends students to take their flu shot this flu season.
The Children’s Hospital may no longer be a part of McMaster University in the future. In its latest capital plan, Hamilton Health Sciences has revealed its intentions to close the current McMaster Children’s Hospital while constructing a new hospital in its place near the Hamilton General, located downtown.
The capital plan is required by the Ministry of Health from every hospital in Ontario. It is used to assess the prospective long-term growth and patient care that are required as well as making recommendations on the kinds of facilities and forms that are needed to deliver that caliber of care.
In the case of the Children’s Hospital, difficulties accommodating the large number of patients are the main factor driving the closing of the current location. The hospital serves a growing community of 2.5 million people and is the fastest growing children’s hospital in the province.
“The facility that [the Children’s Hospital] is located in now may not be the best suited for that growth. So we are creating a vision based the patient growth and the kind of care we will need to provide from Hamilton Health Sciences,” explained Aaron Levo, vice-president (Communications and Public Affairs) at HHS.
“One of the questions we are asking ourselves is whether we can do it in the existing facilities or whether there are benefits to the community if we were to build new facilities for some of these programs,” he added.
The plan to close the McMaster facility while constructing a new building more centrally in Hamilton is also in part due to feasibility.
“We cannot replicate all [our programs] across the community—we have to do it in a focused way that is sustainable, but at the same time, we know that people need access to healthcare,” said Levo.
While this remains an early vision from HHS and actions are still “yet to be determined”, Rob MacIsaac, CEO of HHS, has aspirations for these changes to take place over the next 20 years.
“The Children’s Hospital is the fastest-growing children’s hospital in the province… we will for sure run out of room on the current site,” he said in an interview with the Hamilton Spectator regarding the long-term vision.
Although it is unlikely that these changes in the next few decades will affect any students currently enrolled at Mac, the notion of the Children’s Hospital closing certainly brings mixed reactions, particularly among students currently involved with the hospital on campus.
“For McMaster students wanting to go into healthcare, this is our first glimpse into what it could be like. It would take away from our learning experiences, and our chances to bond with our community,” said Laura Sapiano, a second-year Life Sciences student.
On the other hand, as an anonymous second-year Integrated Sciences student argues, the relocation effects on students may be negligible.
“Student access to involvement opportunities is not the point of the hospital and should not even be considered when deciding whether to open, close, or relocate a building,” the student said.
And while the long-term vision for HHS no longer includes the sharing of campus buildings, Levo affirms that the university will remain affiliated with Hamilton Health Sciences in many other ways.
“The ties between the university and the hospital are much deeper than the facilities we have and we are incredibly proud of our affiliation with the Faculty of Medicine. It’s an essential part of who we are as a hospital and we will continue to find ways to nurture and grow that connection between the hospital and the university.”
On Jan.28, Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative took place throughout Canada. With over 109,451,718 text messages, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook shares, Bell came through on their promise to donate five cents for each of them and contributed $5,472,585 towards initiating a conversation about mental health issues.
One McMaster student, Cassie Boettcher, took this opportunity to start a conversation in the McMaster community through artwork.
“You could feel the vibrations through campus already, people were tweeting and texting… so it was already on everyone’s mind that this would be the day to tackle this topic,” said Cassie, a fourth-year Sociology student.
Cassie, a painter by hobby, began with a blank canvas and spent the day asking students to dip their thumb in paint and put their thumbprint on the canvas. Each thumbprint represents themselves or someone they know who is affected by mental illness.
By the end of the day, the canvas had over 250 thumb prints, each signifying someone who is struggling with mental illness. Out of everyone asked on that day, only one person didn’t know anyone affected by mental illness.
“There is this interconnectedness,” Cassie explained. “That’s why I love that they overlap. Right there [in that corner] there are 20 people who are suffering.” When asked why she chose the thumbprint, Cassie responded, “The thumbprint is your identity. To me, it’s almost like the painting is holding everyone’s hand. This person probably doesn’t know that person but look what they have in common.”
Cassie’s inspiration for the artwork extends further than the Bell Let’s Talk initiative. “I have a lot of very close friends and relatives that suffer from debilitating mental illnesses. Originally I was going to just do this piece and show them, and say look, we can do this, you are not alone.” Now, the artwork will be auctioned by the Hamilton Health Science Foundation and afterwards displayed at the McMaster Children’s Hospital in the mental health ward.
“I hope this inspires people to feel comfortable talking about it with loved ones or understanding if a friend comes to them that it’s okay to have those conversations,” Cassie said. “But this battle is far from complete – this is just a ripple in the ocean that needs to change.”
Assistant News Editor
Watermelons. Helium balloons. Cookies with pink icing.
While such novelties could very well describe the perfect picnic, these instead were present at the Children’s Emergency Department open house on Nov. 5.
Having closed their doors to anyone older than eighteen years of age since Apr. 4, the open house served as an invitation from the hospital to the broader community to showcase both what has been built and what currently goes on in the Children’s Emergency Department at McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Visitors were given a look into various areas of the Emergency Department, from the trauma rooms to the casting areas for broken bones. Additionally, demonstrations of IVs and cast moldings were performed for children.
The entire emergency has been tailored to meet the needs of children. Waiting and treatment areas are more spacious to accommodate family comfort, from bulky strollers to worrisome grandparents. Separated ambulances and walk-in entrances, as well as an isolated trauma bay and treatment room, serve to minimize a child’s exposure to the more gruesome aspects of medicine.
Dona Teles, Clinical Manager for the Children’s Emergency Department, stressed this design layout, saying “the point of the Children’s Emergency Department’s infrastructure was to limit the experience with needless trauma.”
Unique to the hospital is an overwhelmingly child-friendly environment. Bright colours highlight an otherwise bleak hospital exterior. Areas have been designed as to mirror the urban landscape. Interactive screens with a variety of games function as apt distractions. Together, these unique features further assist the children and families during the stressful time of a hospital emergency.
“We did not want it [the Emergency Department] to look so medicalized, with equipment right when you entire the room. We didn’t want people to be looking at it as a hospital, but as a welcoming playland,” said Teles.
But not all was gumdrops and lollipops, despite the fact that the current infrastructure and infantile atmosphere may remind some of exactly that.
Teles noted that, “The ER change was very controversial in the beginning, when we were separating the hospitals and putting them into their centres of excellence. We became the centre of excellence for children.
“It wasn’t that we were building a centre for children. It was that we were taking something away from the adult population; and in a sense we did,” said Teles.
Plans to do just that began in 2008 when Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) introduced the “Access to Best Care” (ABC) plan, which served to ensure healthcare was coordinated to be at the highest quality possible.
To do this, the hospital planned to strengthen its centre of excellence in Pediatrics, which culminated in a pediatric Emergency Department, Pediatric Critical Care Unit, and an inpatient mental health unit.
Last summer saw the application of this plan for the Hamilton Health Sciences began construction of a new Children’s Emergency Department. The opening of the Emergency Department represented the very butt-end of nearly $650-million in investments.
Despite this, controversy swelled. Ward 14 Councillor Robert Pastua was worried that besides some people being unaware of the change, others would have to drive further to receive the same care.
Other politicians chimed in, including Flamborough Ward 15 Councillor, Judi Partridge, who went so far to say that, “The pressure on the system created by this closing appears to be ill thought out – the risk is someone may die.”
“The days of every hospital being exactly the same as the others are long gone. Modern medicine and the need to have high technologies in places means you can’t have one of everything in every place,” said Jeff Vallentin, Vice President of HHS in charge of Communications and Stakeholder Relations, in response.
While both sides boomed their voices of concern, lost in the verbal fireworks was that the switch not only altered the way in which immediate care was carried out, but implicitly refashioned the entire hospital’s method of care, from how it operates to how it delivers various services.
To this point, the 270 staff members, 102 beds, and numerous departmental changes were observed. Much of the staff and medical equipment was partitioned between other Hamiltonian hospitals such as the Juravinski Hospital, which received 185 of the staff members, or Hamilton General Hospital, which received six of the beds.
Irrespective of these changes, the explicit benefits of whether or not the move has been advantageous remains to be seen. Certainly, the youngest of the population are being cared for. But lingering questions still remain to those left behind, especially considering that the hospital is situated in a University with some 20,000 students that are not eligible for immediate care.
Perhaps in an attempt to answer the enduring concerns, or perhaps to appease the bitterness some community members may still hold, Teles boldly concluded with, “It is the best and only place we should be bringing our children to for care.”
And with an entire emergency department retrofitted for children and familial needs, from distracting games to a child-friendly environment, this may certainly be true.
Children may not want to just be brought to the hospital. Instead, they may want to stay there too.