St. Joseph’s Hospital partially reopened its emergency room Thursday afternoon to patients who can walk in under their own power, but all surgery is still cancelled at the flood-damaged hospital.

St. Joe’s has been without its 12 operating room surgical suite and sterilization room since a fire hose pipe burst, flooding three floors of the hospital around 6:45 a.m. Wednesday. All surgeries at St. Joe’s are expected to be cancelled until at least Monday.

'Our goal is to have operating capacity by next week.'- Dr. David Higgins, President of St. Joseph’s Hospital

Dr. David Higgins, President of St. Joseph’s, said he hopes running his emergency department at a somewhat reduced capacity will be “some relief for the city.”

Paramedics have been taking seriously ill patients to Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) emergency rooms while St. Joe’s is offline. Cmdr. Ian Wright of Hamilton EMS said the city's paramedics have dealt with the shutdown without issue so far. 

"Hospitals have stepped up for us," Wright said, adding he believes hospitals have brought in extra staff to help unload ambulances faster.

On average, St. Joe’s gets between 40 and 45 ambulances a day.  Some 80 patients still showed up at St. Joe’s ER department, Higgins said, before staff assessed them and sent them to other hospitals.

Where should you go?

  • St. Joe's  ER reopened on Thursday for "ambulatory" patients only. Anyone suffering from serious but non-urgent medical issues like cuts, possible broken bones or serious flu-like symptoms can also attend the St. Joe's Urgent Care Centre in Stoney Creek, or the HHS Urgent Care Centre on Main Street West. The Hamilton General ER is also open.  (See locations in the map below)
  • Sick or injured children should be taken to McMaster, HHS officials said. 
  • The psychiatric unit at St. Joe's also remains open.

Brenda Flaherty, the HHS Executive Vice President, told reporters she didn’t have an estimate on how many more patients attended her hospitals, but said reports from medical teams there indicated that wait times hadn’t gone up significantly.

Flaherty said 67 surgeries were cancelled today at Hamilton General and the Juravinski Hospital  a move made to keep operating rooms free for the 7 to 10 emergency surgeries typically done at St. Joe’s — but HHS is hoping to perform about 60 per cent of scheduled surgeries tomorrow, most of which are minor operations.

St. Joe’s, meanwhile, is hoping to get back to doing surgery as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to have operating capacity by next week,” Higgins said, adding teams of workers are cleaning the rooms and testing medical equipment.

A lot of the operating room technology “passes the eyeball test,” Higgins said, but “that’s not good enough for us.”

Higgins, speaking to reporters by teleconference, said he didn’t have a cost estimate of how much damage was done. He said insurance assessors are on site, and the investigation into how the pipe burst is ongoing. He could not say if the pipe malfunction was related to the cold weather.

ER patients face long wait

St. Joe's runs one of Hamilton's most efficient emergency rooms, according to Ministry of Health data released last November. On average, a St. Joe's ER patient can expect to spend between 2.5 and 6.7 hours waiting depending on their condition.

St. Joe's flood interior

One of the ultrasound rooms in St. Joe's Diagnostic Imaging department suffered flood damage on Wednesday. Here, a worker starts the clean-up. ((St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton))

At Hamilton General, people's average wait is between 3.2 and 8.6 hours, while at the Juravinski people wait between 3 and 8.4 hours.

Temporarily losing St. Joe's operating rooms also poses a problem for people with specific conditions, including lung cancer. The hospital is the regional hub for thoracic surgery, which is specialized surgery for diseases of the lungs, chest and breathing tube.  

Inside St. Joe's, crews worked hard to clean up after the flood. In images provided by the hospital, orange plastic covered the floor as workers use vacuums. 

No patients were injured by the flooding and family and friends can still visit as normal. Outpatient clinic visits, except the fracture clinic, are also going ahead on Thursday, and services like dialysis, diagnostic imaging and endoscopies are on as well.

Dr. David Higgins, President of St. Joe's, said there will be no surgeries at the hospital until at least Sunday. 

Juravinski Cancer Centre reopens

The Juravinski Cancer Centre is treating patients again on Thursday, days after a frozen pipe burst and seriously damaged its chemotherapy suite and the pharmacy that serves it. 

Most radiation treatments and all chemotherapy were cancelled yesterday, but service is getting back to normal levels today. On a normal day the hospital treats between 350 and 400 people with radiation and 80 to 100 people with chemotherapy.

Juravinski's president Dr. Ralph Meyer said Wednesday evening the hospital is working hard to reschedule cancelled appointments, and that at least 60 treatments have been re-booked for Thursday.

Patients are urged to call their oncologist directly if they have any concerns about their treatment. 

Alternate ERs