Hospitals at capacity as COVID-19 fears lead to sicker patients seeking treatment

Several hospitals in the Ottawa area are at or over 100 per cent capacity, but not because of COVID-19 patients. Officials say it's because many people who don't have the virus are delaying going to hospital, and when they finally do seek treatment, they're very sick.

One of the 'unintended consequences' of the pandemic, says official

COVID-19 fears are causing people to delay seeking hospital treatment until their health needs are complex, and that's causing beds to fill up, says the vice-president of patient care at the Queensway Carelton Hospital. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Several hospitals in the Ottawa area are at or over 100 per cent capacity, but not because of COVID-19 patients.

Rather, officials say it's because many people who don't have the virus are delaying going to hospital, and when they finally do seek treatment, they're very sick.

Leah Levesque, vice-president of patient care at the Queensway Carelton Hospital (QCH), is calling the phenomenon "the unintended consequences of COVID."

While as of Thursday there were just five COVID-19 patients at QCH, the hospital has recently been between 105 and 112 per cent capacity.

"People are afraid to leave their homes. They're afraid to come to the hospital," said Levesque.

"So I think they've been managing [on their own] and now, I think, some of their conditions are further progressed. And as a result of that, they're requiring hospitalization."

The Ottawa Hospital is usually at 100 per cent patient capacity. It's currently between 105 and 112 per cent. (Guillaume Lafrenière/Radio-Canada)

Levesque said by the time people are admitted to hospital, they're in need of more intensive treatment and need to stay longer. 

The hospital has added seven beds to its intensive care unit, she said.

In a statement to CBC, The Ottawa Hospital said it's at 99 per cent capacity, in part due to "delays in people accessing primary care" and "the challenges of moving patients into appropriate care within the community, such as long-term care homes, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."

The hospital is working with the region's officials to create more capacity as needed, the statement said. 

According to Ottawa Public Health's dashboard, the hospital's Civic campus is in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak, however, with seven confirmed deaths since Feb. 19. 

'Please don't be afraid'

The situation is one that many local hospitals are dealing with, said Alex Munter, CEO of CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital, in a tweet.

The Montfort Hospital also reported it was at 100 per cent capacity, but only had two patients with COVID-19 occupying its ICU.

"We have very little extra capacity. We know how hard it is for people and small businesses, but we strongly encourage everyone to continue to respect public health measures," the hospital said in a statement. 

For her part, Levesque is urging people to seek help when they need it.

"Please don't be afraid to come to the hospital," she said. 

"The sooner [people] have treatment and intervention, the better outcomes and the less demand on hospital capacity."

With files from Julie Ireton

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