Surgeries postponed due to severe flu cases overwhelming Toronto ICU

By Amanda Ferguson

At least one Toronto hospital has had to delay elective surgeries as patients with severe influenza complications have overwhelmed local ICUs, CityNews has learned.

Michael Garron Hospital, formerly Toronto East General Hospital, has postponed seven cancer surgeries as a result of a shortage of beds in the ICU since December.

Carmine Stumpo, vice-president of programs at Michael Garron Hospital, says it’s been a juggling act for surgeons as they grapple with both critically ill flu patients and those requiring major cancer surgery.

“They’re usually larger cancer cases and they require more intense monitoring,” Stumpo said. “It was seven cases and we’ve been able to complete all those cases, so the work is done and the patients are cared for.

“Again, we wanted to make sure we do it in the safest possible way.”

Stumpo says on average the patients have had to wait less than a week to get the required surgery. In each case, the patients received care within the targeted wait times set out by Ontario’s Ministry of Health.

“With our surgeon activity, we’ve noticed an increased use of our ICU-related influenza cases as well as complications of influenza,” Stumpo said. “We also use the ICU to care for patients post-operatively.

“Usually cases involving cancer, the care is more acute and they need more close monitoring. So when that happens and we’re unable to safely care for those patients, we will delay the surgery for a matter of days — and well within our target wait times — to ensure we’re doing it the safest way possible.”

SickKids Hospital, the University Health Network, St. Michael’s Hospital and North York General Hospital have all had more influenza patients visiting their emergency departments, but they haven’t had to delay or cancel elective procedures.

“I don’t want to diminish the importance to an individual or a family; it’s an incredibly stressful thing to have to undergo surgery of any kind,” said Health Minister Eric Hoskins.

“So we work with our hospitals to ensure that that that sort of situation hopefully is completely avoided, but if it’s necessary it’s minimized. That’s our aim, and fortunately across the province generally speaking there have been few cases where elective cases had to be rescheduled.”

According to most recent flu figures from the province, there have been 33,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza. Almost half, or 49 per cent, are people 65 and over. More than 3,100 people have been hospitalized for the flu, resulting in 285 ICU admissions and 130 deaths.

Michael Garron Hospital has 17 funded beds in the ICU and four beds in the critical care unit.

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