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Muskoka’s hospitals continue to be well over capacity

High capacity and lower-than-needed staff levels continue to affect the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital and South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge.

“I don’t think we’ve ever really experienced a quiet time,” says Cheryl Harrison, President and CEO of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC). “We’ve had peaks and a few little valleys.”

Currently, she says the hospital sites are dealing with capacity levels between 115 and 120 percent.

The sites being over capacity has been consistent since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, but Harrison says the “tri-factor impact” of COVID, influenza, and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is making things more difficult to manage. She points out that the hospitals have been dealing with an early start to the influenza season. “Every day is a different day,” she says. “Sometimes we have the capacity in one spot of the organization and we’re able to move staff around. Sometimes we have to move patients around to see if we can create capacity.”

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“It’s making sure we have all the resources we need,” explains Harrison.

However, she says Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, which runs the hospitals in Muskoka, is being hampered by around 100 vacancies, mostly with clinical staff. She says upper management is doing what they can to aggressively recruit new staff. 

Part of that recruitment strategy is the released launched “Housing for Healthcare” initiative. MAHC officials are reaching out to the community in hopes of finding places for new recruits to live. 

“They show up every day, some days are different challenges than others, but they figure it out and they support each other,” says Harrison of the staff at both hospitals. 

While it’s possible procedures could be limited, Harrison says that would be a last resort. “We have a list of things we want to try before we have to have any impact on access to services,” she says, adding that it’s not being looked at currently. 

Harrison explains the hospital’s surge capacity plan “guides them every day” and looks at different criteria, like staff capacity, to determine what needs to be done. “The whole system is there to help each other,” she says. 

Masks have become a hot topic of conversation after Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore “strongly recommended” the use of masks in the province. “I let the science guide my own opinion and given that there is an increase in viruses out there, not just COVID, I have personally gone back to wearing my mask in public,” says Harrison 

“That’s what Dr. Moore is encouraging people to do,” she continues. “Use common sense, look at the science, and keep yourself safe and those around you safe.”

As part of that, Harrison says wearing a mask is a good idea adding she recommends those able to get vaccinated for the flu and get their COVID booster shots. “Be patient,” she says. “It’s a time of year we should be out celebrating. Try to find the safe way to celebrate, take care of each other, and be positive.”

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