Emergency Sign

Emergency Room services at St. Joe's are closed after a flood destroyed 12 of the hospital's operating rooms. (iStock)

Serious flooding damage has forced the closure of 12 operating rooms at St. Joseph’s on Wednesday, leading the hospital to close its emergency room and prompting Hamilton Health Sciences to declare a "code orange standby" to cope with the crisis.

The code orange standby will allow HHS to deploy more resources to assist emergency rooms that will be busier than normal as patients are displaced from St. Joe’s.

Dr. David Higgins, President of St. Joseph’s, said closing his hospital’s ER, which treats over 100 people a day, poses a “big challenge” for other Hamilton hospitals. All surgeries at the hospital are off for an indefinite amount of time while the hospital figures out what needs to be fixed in its operating rooms. 

Adding to the strain, the Juravinski Cancer Centre also suffered a serious flood on Tuesday afternoon in its chemotherapy suite and the pharmacy that serves it.

Both hospitals continue to operate some services — St. Joe’s, for example, is still operating its psychiatric service and its Stoney Creek Urgent Care Centre — but Higgins said other hospitals will “clearly be under pressure” this week.

EMS officials have been advised of the closure and will have to “choose carefully” where to send ambulances, said Brenda Flaherty, Executive Vice President of HHS.

Parents with sick children are urged to go to McMaster’s emergency department, while other patients can go to emergency rooms in east  Hamilton a the General and to the Main Street West urgent care centre. 

Higgins updated reporters along with Flaherty and Ralph Meyer from the Juravinski during a teleconference around 5 p.m. Wednesday. The hospital leaders said they would update the media regularly until regular service is restored and that updated information will be published online for patients.

Surgeries cancelled, treatment delayed

While no in-patients have been displaced by the flooding, dozens of elective surgeries at both hospitals have been cancelled.

At the Juravinski, the flooded area was closed to patient care today, but chemotherapy treatment is set to resume tomorrow.

Radiation treatment at the hospital was also affected by the flooding. Today the hospital did just 23 treatments when it normally does between 350-400. Full service is expected to resume tomorrow.

Meyer said his staff is still trying to reschedule cancelled appointments, and that his staff has been contacting patients directly.

Extent of St. Joe’s damage unknown

At St. Joe’s, outpatient visits, elective surgeries and appointments at the Charlton Campus at 50 Charlton Avenue East were  cancelled for Wednesday in all buildings except the Fontbonne Building. Dialysis appointments are still happening and on schedule.

The flooding caused extensive damage inside the hospital’s second floor operating suite, as well as its main sterilization room. Expensive operating equipment suffered water damage as well as the floors, walls and the equipment inside them.

“We’re concerned about the damage,” Higgins said.

Higgins couldn’t provide a cost estimate at this time, but said the hospital should have a better idea in the coming days. He said the hospital and its insurance company will be investigating how the flooding happened, but believes it may be related to the cold weather.

“I do feel very sorry for the stress our patients must be feeling,” Higgins said, adding his staff is doing everything possible “to make this right.”

The hospital’s OR will be closed until at least Sunday, he said.

At the Juravinski, staff managed to save most medication, computers and IV racks amid a large amount of flowing water. Meyer said he wasn’t sure how much water there was, but vowed the hospital will investigate how the pipe froze and burst.