Inspector saw Hamilton hospital staff breaking COVID-19 rules

An inspector from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour warned staff at Hamilton General Hospital about not following COVID-19 protocols after they didn’t physically distance in the hospital cafeteria and were in “close, face-to-face contact,” according to a staff memo obtained by CBC News.

The ministry confirmed it also issued Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), the organization which runs the hospital, an order and is currently investigating.

It would not reveal why it issued the order. But the hospital network says the order is unrelated to staff breaching COVID-19 rules and is instead “related to mask labelling and communication with joint health and safety committees at our site. Something already resolved.”

Veronica Magee, an HHS spokesperson, confirmed via email on Friday that the inspector “observed some of our staff who were sitting too closely together.”

“The inspector addressed the group [and] said they could be subjected to fines in the future if the behaviour was seen again, and that HHS had communicated the need to abide by masking/distancing rules on many occasions.”

‘Staffing crises’

The staff memo says non-compliance is mainly occurring among staff, physicians and residents, with people socializing, sitting too close together and not wearing masks properly.

HHS also said in its communication to employees that, in many cases, their lack of masking and distancing is causing “staffing crises” among critical teams.

Magee confirmed the memo, saying “we do believe that in some cases, that non-compliance has resulted in staffing issues on some units.”

Despite the concerns, part of the internal memo says most staff are following the rules.

Rob MacIsaac, CEO and president of Hamilton Health Sciences, said staff are following rules and not getting each other sick during a COVID-19 media briefing on Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“Because distancing and masking rules were followed, there was no impact on coworkers or on the specific departments’ ability to keep functioning,” Magee wrote.

HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac also emphasized, during a Friday media briefing, that “staff are not putting each other at risk because they’re following the rules.”

74 staff in self-isolation

Magee also confirmed 74 staff members and physicians are in self-isolation due to a “combination of reasons.”

“Not all of them have COVID-19 but are isolating in accordance with public health requirements,” she wrote.

This comes as HHS deals with a pair of outbreaks in its Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. Three patients and two staff members have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. More test results are pending.

In total, HHS has 29 COVID-19 patients in hospital, five of whom are in intensive care, MacIsaac says.

In the Friday media briefing, he said the hospital network won’t be able to manage a significant second wave of COVID-19 without scaling back services.

“We are preparing for some policy changes … we’ll be increasing testing for our patients starting Monday, people who are going to have procedures or surgeries. We’re also introducing some additional restrictions to visiting,” he said.

“Our health-care system is facing some very difficult choices.”

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