Doctors and staff who take care of COVID patients at Lions Gate Hospital are under increasing pressure as hospitalizations spike with the pandemic’s “third wave.”
The surge in numbers means more hospital beds at Lions Gate Hospital are now being dedicated to COVID patients. According to a memo sent to staff this week, there are now two units at the hospital dedicated to COVID patients and a third unit being used for patients suspected of having COVID whose test results have not yet been confirmed.
No official numbers have been released by the health authority, but unofficial reports put the number of COVID patients at LGH on a recent day at over 30.
People admitted to the Lions Gate Hospital’s COVID ward include not only residents of the North Shore, but also more seriously ill patients from surrounding communities including Whistler, which has recently had a dramatic increase in cases.
From Jan. 1 to Apr. 5, 2021, there were 1,505 confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Whistler, giving the area the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the province, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.
Dr. Kevin McLeod, an internal medicine specialist working on Lions Gate Hospital’s COVID ward, first raised the alarm about increasing numbers of patients with a series of social media posts over the Easter long weekend, pointing to both the increasing number of patients and the fact that patients in younger age groups have been coming to the hospital sicker.
“Significant increase in COVID cases especially in younger people who are coming in around day 10 from initial disease onset,” he wrote. “Presenting really sick. Needing 100 per cent oxygen to stay alive teetering on intubation sick.”
On Monday, hospitalizations in Vancouver Coastal Health – which includes several designated COVID hospitals like Lions Gate – reached 117, with 38 people in critical care – the highest since January.
Across the province, the number of hospitalizations was 368 with 121 in critical care – setting a record for those in ICU.
Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged Monday that those numbers are worrying.
Dix said while hospitals can still manage, “There is concern with occupancy of close to 100 per cent in a number of our key hospitals and especially in Metro Vancouver in Vancouver General Hospital, Lions Gate Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital.”
For the first time since May, numbers of COVID patients in hospital are also having an impact on surgeries, with some elective surgeries cancelled in both Fraser Health, as well as Vancouver Coastal Health this week.
According to a memo sent to staff in Vancouver Coastal Health, non-urgent surgeries requiring a hospital stay may be postponed or done as day surgeries if required.
The situation is taking a toll on hospital staff, Dix said on Monday.
“The idea of people in critical care who are severely ill from COVID-19 has a profound effect on them.”
The pressures on the hospital come at a time when the North Shore has reported its highest ever number of weekly COVID cases: 316 cases for the week ending April 3, according to B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control.
Cases in Whistler have also soared, with 410 cases reported for the week ending April 3. A number of infections in that community have included cases of the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, which has tended to hit younger age groups, including people in their 20s.
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said infections on the North Shore are primarily being spread among household members, and also by social interactions.
Of the recent cases, “Some of those people did go to Whistler. People went other places, too, and also stayed home and had social interaction,” he said – which could range from two couples having a dinner party to kids from different households watching TV together. Workplace clusters tend of make up a very small proportion of cases on the North Shore, he said.
Across the province as a whole, variant strains of COVID-19 now make up approximately 50 per cent of all cases, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's medical health officer, on Monday.