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Hospital union leaders question ability of Ontario hospitals to handle H1N1 surge

Province has the fewest beds per 1,000 of the population of any province in Canada.

Hospital union leaders question ability of Ontario hospitals to handle H1N1 surgeWhile much of Ontario worries, legitimately, about access to H1N1 vaccinations, hospital union leaders are questioning the capacity of hospitals to handle a potential H1N1 surge.

"Hospitals are operating at or above 98 per cent capacity and have little room to accommodate a surge in H1N1 patients. We do not believe that there are sufficient ICU beds or ventilators to provide care to the people who will need it," Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) President Michael Hurley said.

"We are calling on the Ministry of Health to disclose the current occupancy rates of our hospitals and how many ICU beds and ventilators are available. We are also asking that money from the $600 million set aside in Ontario for H1N1 be used to add ventilators, ICU beds and to step up hospital cleaning. Diseases like H1N1 can spread in a hospital environment without vigorous attention to infection control," Hurley said.

"Ontario's Minister of Health says we are in an H1N1 pandemic today," notes Hurley. "A 2006 study used for an Ontario Health Ministry protocol for triage during a flu pandemic predicted influenza admissions to Ontario hospitals reaching 1823 per day with demand on ICU resources hitting 171 per cent of bed capacity and 118 per cent of ventilator capacity."

Thousands of hospital beds, including ICU beds, have closed in Ontario over the last 15 years. Ontario has the fewest beds per 1,000 of population of any province in Canada. In addition, a number of hospitals and ERs have also closed.

"Triage protocols developed in Ontario after SARS plan for the eventuality that decisions may need to be made to deny access to ventilators to some patients based on their likelihood of survival, should the surge in patients overwhelm resources," said Hurley.

OCHU, a division of CUPE, represents 25,000 hospital nurses and support and clerical staff at hospitals throughout Ontario.

Links and sources
  Development of a Triage Protocol for Critical Care During an Influenza Pandemic
  Worst Case: Choosing who survives in a Flu Epidemic

Posted: November 06, 2009

  Health care
  Public services
  Front lines

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