Outbreaks at Hamilton Hospital Cause 84 COVID Deaths

At least 84 Hamiltonians with COVID-19-19 have died during hospital outbreaks over the course of the pandemic.

The number does not include two kills removed from the Nov. 4 count after a health associate said they were mistakenly added.

Dr. Bart Harvey said that all of Hamilton Deaths from COVID-19 they were being reviewed because public health had inadvertently “exaggerated” the number by including those who “clearly died of another cause.”

The review is in the early stages and is expected to take weeks. There is no estimate of how many deaths could be removed from the number of 420 victims of the Hamilton pandemic.

“I think it will really be a very small group of people,” Harvey said. “Hospice … and another end of life or hospice unit is where, I think, we will find these people.”

The two deaths already eliminated were in the 3W hospice unit at St. Peter’s Hospital, where an ongoing outbreak has risen to 11 patients and three employees since it was declared Oct. 27.

It is the third outbreak in 3W since the beginning of the pandemic. Six more palliative COVID patients died in spring 2021 and one in spring 2020.

An outbreak in the other St. Peter 3E hospice unit led to three deaths in spring 2021.

Excluding the deaths of 12 hospice patients with COVID would reduce the outbreak count at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) by nearly 15 percent.

“It makes it really difficult to measure the burden of something like COVID,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. “My opinion is that we should count them.”

Haldimand and Norfolk has found a solution by reporting two different categories for those who die with COVID to ensure that neither goes away. As of Sunday, the region had 50 COVID-related deaths and seven non-COVID-related deaths.

So far, Hamilton has removed the two deaths from his report entirely.

Inconsistencies in reporting between public health departments have been a problem for the entire pandemic.

One Hamilton death reported Friday was a person over the age of 80; more than 60 percent have been in this age group. Ages are not available at the Haldimand and Norfolk Health Unit.

Meanwhile, a person not vaccinated with COVID died in Haldimand and Norfolk, the unit reported Friday. Hamilton Public Health does not provide vaccination status. Instead, it provides the index per 100,000 inhabitants.

What makes the differences difficult to understand is that each public health unit generally cites privacy as the reason for withholding information.

Public Health Ontario (PHO) says it provides guidance to regions “to help ensure consistency across Ontario.”

Advice from the PHO was what caused Hamilton’s public health to back down on the COVID death report, Harvey said.

“We are following the definitions of the province,” he said. “We try to be as accurate and reliable as possible, but things like this come up that we have to adapt to and we have to take into account.”

PHO confirmed that it provided information to Hamilton Public Health on the ability to keep certain deaths of people with COVID off the tally.

It appears to be contrary to the definition of COVID death published by the province and Hamilton which clearly states: “Deaths are included, regardless of whether COVID-19 has been determined to be a contributing or underlying cause of death.”

Furness expressed concern that this lagoon could be a slippery slope that could result in the death of long-term care patients being removed from sight.

It’s significant considering that 179 of Hamilton’s COVID deaths have occurred in outbreaks in nursing homes or long-term care. It represents more than 40 percent of the total deaths from the city’s pandemic.

Nearly two-thirds of the 277 deaths from the COVID outbreak in Hamilton occurred in seniors’ homes.

Knowing the number also helps show the effectiveness of vaccines, as 139 of the deaths, more than three-quarters, occurred before mid-December, when no COVID vaccine was available.

Hospitals represent the next largest group with 79 deaths at HHS and five at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in 48 outbreaks.

During the course of the pandemic, 14 deaths from outbreaks occurred outside hospitals and homes for the elderly. It represents only five percent.

Two of those deaths are also likely to be eliminated, as they were in an outbreak at Emmanuel House Hospice in April 2020.

Harvey denied that the changes apply more widely than terminally ill patients.

“We have to have a clear alternative diagnosis that is clearly not related to COVID-19,” he said.

The virus also has to be asymptomatic no matter what other illnesses the patient had, “Anyone who has had COVID-19 and had symptoms … is a death from COVID-19.”

Joanna Frketich is a Hamilton reporter who covers health issues for The Spectator. Contact her by email: [email protected]


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