Cardiac surgeries latest to be cancelled at Montreal hospital as ICUs fill up

As COVID-19 stretches Montreal hospitals further and further, half the cardiac surgeries at the McGill University Health Centre have already been cancelled.

Montrealers should expect more updates like this, said Dr. Peter Goldberg, the director of critical care at the MUHC, and it’s not good news.

“We’re talking about important cardiac surgeries that are planned, that are scheduled,” he said Thursday.

“They’re scheduled for a reason, because they are surgically indicated. They all, for lack of a better term, [have] a best-before date.”

Those surgeries had to be cancelled because cardiac patients must stay in an intensive care unit after surgery, but that’s not possible right now – all but five of the MUHC’s 61 ICU beds are in use, nearly half of them with COVID-19 patients.

Having cancelled half the cardiac surgeries, soon the MUHC may be cancelling even more.

Earlier this week, health official Dr. Lucie Opatrny said that a number of surgeries were being cancelled, including colonoscopies meant to screen for cancer and kidney transplants from living donors.

Montreal health-care staff were also beginning trainings and simulations about life-saving "triage" protocols, she said—in other words, how they would be deciding who should be prioritized for life-saving COVID-19 care like respirators if hospitals aren't able to try to save everyone.

Local hospitals’ juggling act to free up beds has continued through the week, with the MUHC opening eight more ICU beds.

But some of the bottleneck at ICUs comes down to a lack of nurses, a problem Opatrny also addressed.

“They have left the public system because the quality of care, the quality of life, working conditions were so dismal that they wanted something else,” said Joanne Scullion, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Some have proposed forcing those departed nurses—many of whom are now working in the private system—to come back and help out on an emergency basis.

But Health Minister Christian Dube said not just any nurse can be asked to go to an ICU, and he’s looking more at regional transfers.

“I think it’s probably easier to ask personnel to come from other region[s] when they have the expertise, for example, in ICU, because the ICU needs nurses that have that experience.”

But Dube said Thursday that he’s hopeful that hospitalization numbers will stabilize after a lag time, since case numbers have been lower this week than last.


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