The Lake of The Woods District Hospital is in a state of worry as they are currently in what they’re calling the period of “COVID-19 unknown”.

This is due to the fact they don’t know what state they will be in, in terms of safety following April 27, 2022, when remaining COVID-19 directives including masks will be lifted in health care settings.

LWDH CEO, Ray Racette says that two years ago the hospital had clear direction from the province, which provided a position of safety for the hospital, but now the future is unknown on what safety will look like.

“By the end of April all those things that we relied on, the restriction guidance, directives, emergency orders, everything will be expiring by the end of April,’ said Racette.

The CEO noted that he thinks more guidance is coming but is just unclear what that will look like and how will that allow them to keep the community safe as well.

Another area of unknown for the hospital is the severity of COVID-19 and its impact on the region. Earlier this year the province limited who can get a PCR test to a certain group, which has made case counts inaccurate. Along with testing limitations, COVID reporting has changed as well leaving the hospital in the dark.

“When the pandemic started up until the end of December of last year we knew that every positive case of COVID that was diagnosed using genetic testing, all those cases were recorded in a database, we could look at a curve of is it getting better or worse, and we can look at that and say it’s backed up.”

Throughout the pandemic, Racette says he has used those numbers to guide urgency within the hospital such as cutting back services, reducing visiting hours, and the number of visitors if they saw the numbers increase.

“We can’t really look at a data set and say that forces us to look at what to do to mitigate that.”

To make matters worse Racette can’t see the severity of COVID in Manitoba leaving a lot of unknowns about who is coming into Kenora.

“We used to use their [Manitoba's] information with what we look at, and of course, we have many people who go to Manitoba or come from Manitoba so that’s now a blind spot.”

From early February up until April 6, 2022, the Northwestern Health Unit was only reporting COVID data three days a week to allow them time to accurately assess the true trend of the virus. Moving forward from April 6, 2022, the NWHU is only reporting data once a week, which will be on Wednesdays.

Now that services and visitation have begun to go back to normal the hospital is starting to see a significant increase in staff sickness as the result of restrictions being lifted.

As of April 6, 2022, Racette said that 20 staff have tested positive and are currently unavailable to work.

The hospital is also facing one of it worst staff shortages Racette has seen since the beginning of the pandemic and in the last 20-30 years.

“There’s no patient-related service that is fully staffed right now, like even labs a 25 per cent vacancy. Emergency the vacancy rate is 44 per cent, ICU has a 55 per cent vacancy. Nursing supervisors have just over 50 per cent vacancies. Over all of our services we have vacancies we’ve never seen before.”

Prior to the pandemic beginning the hospital only had a vacancy rate of only 7-10 per cent among all departments, and now their vacancy rate is up to 22 per cent.

The large majority of staff shortages Racette said are nurses due to burnout, exhaustion, disengagement, and Bill 124 that caps compensation increases to 1 per cent.

Racette noted that to fix the ongoing nurse shortage he is looking at adding more support workers, and more allied health staff into service to alleviate shortages.

Through the stress of the unknown of what will happen following April 27, staff shortages, and sickness Racette showed gratitude for his staff.

“I’m very proud of our staff and our medical staff for just over really what their facing and how they're continuing to work despite being exhausted, but their commitment to their community and all the things they're doing, all the additional work that their doing, the pressure they’re facing.”

“I truly admire their effort and their commitment because that’s the only thing keeping our services going.”