RVH has begun a safe, gradual resumption of non-urgent surgeries and procedures, as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions continue a steady downward trend across Ontario.

The provincial government recently rescinded its directive, issued in mid-April at the height of the pandemic’s third wave, which required Ontario hospitals to pause non-emergency surgeries and procedures as a way to preserve bed capacity and allow the redeployment of healthcare workers.

RVH’s initial focus during the ramp-up will be on resuming non-urgent day surgeries and procedures that don’t require an inpatient bed for recovery. This is to ensure the health centre can continue to respond to a potential increase in COVID patients, as well as meet the needs of those COVID patients who remain in hospital. Physicians and surgeons’ offices have begun contacting patients whose procedures were delayed to advise them of new surgery dates.

In keeping with strict criteria from Ontario Health, RVH must also maintain enough beds and healthcare workers to support the province’s critical care needs, remaining ready to accept patient transfers from the GTA. Since December, RVH has accepted the transfer of more than 200 patients from the Toronto-area in an effort to “load balance” critical care activity in the province.

“Ramping-up is very complex, so RVH’s plan takes a safe, measured and equitable approach to resuming non-urgent surgeries and procedures,” says RVH president & CEO Janice Skot. “Although COVID cases and hospitalizations are on the decline, RVH continues to be extremely busy caring for critical COVID patients, so the ramp-up must be done in a cautious, safe way that ensures RVH remains ready to respond to any unexpected COVID-19 surges.”

Throughout the government-directed surgical ramp down, RVH continued to perform emergency and urgent surgeries, such as cancer, vascular and trauma, however, it’s estimated that at least 1,300 procedures were delayed during the almost six week ramp down.

RVH has performed almost 5,000 fewer surgical procedures this year, compared to its pre-pandemic volumes and cautions that the backlog of cases won’t be eased quickly. The ramp-up will be gradual and cautious, with RVH planning to have up to nine of its 11 operating rooms operational over the summer, in alignment with the provincial recovery plan.

“Although the surgical pause was necessary to ensure hospitals had capacity for critically-ill COVID patients, we recognize it has been difficult and frustrating for patients whose care has been postponed twice during the pandemic,” says RVH’s Chief of Staff Dr. Jeff Tyberg. “RVH is anxious to resume surgical activity as soon as possible with safety remaining our top priority. We will continue to monitor critical care demands to ensure RVH can do its part to ensure the system continues to function safely.”