CANTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — Some of the top health leaders in St. Lawrence County are addressing the ongoing COVID-19 spike and how it is affecting local hospitals.

Following the County’s State of Emergency declaration on December 7, St. Lawrence Health President David Acker released a statement to the community. In this statement, President Acker confirmed that the health system postponed all elective inpatient surgeries.

Acker stated that SLH will be “tightly managing outpatient elective cases to see that they occur within specific daytime hours.”

St. Lawrence Health also temporarily suspended cardiac rehabilitation services at Canton-Potsdam Hospital this week. This was to repurpose the space for emergency department use, Acker said.

Laboratory services at St. Lawrence Health System Medical Campus in Canton are also closed due to staffing shortages. These services however are open in Canton at the EJ Noble building.

According to President Acker, the health system is currently seeing higher percentages of inpatient bed capacities filled by COVID-19 patients, which is straining local hospitals.

“Never have we seen such a continuously high percentage of inpatient bed capacity filled by COVID-positive patients,” Acker said in a press release. “Unlike most routine inpatient cases, COVID patients require a substantially greater amount of staff resources at a time of our greatest staffing shortage. Not only do COVID-positive patients require more intense resource deployment, their lengths of stay run longer.”

Acker also confirmed SLH is experiencing longer than average emergency room wait times. He said this is based on a number of factors which include the potential for all patients to be COVID-19 positive, resulting in limited waiting room space.

“Many patients presenting for emergency treatment exhibit COVID-like symptoms, requiring they be tested and treated separately,” Acker added. “Emergency room patients needing inpatient admission are often unable to be promptly placed on the floors due to a lack of available beds, thus causing further congestion.”

Acker also discussed vaccination rates and how this is contributing to the ongoing COVID-19 spike in the North Country.

“With each passing week it becomes increasingly clearer that this December 2021 crisis is being driven overwhelmingly by unvaccinated patients. Breakthrough hospitalizations do occur in those fully vaccinated, most frequently in patients with other significant underlying health conditions, but let’s not succumb to the false narrative that breakthrough cases prove the vaccine doesn’t work. Ten days ago at CPH on a floor full of COVID patients, we had one unvaccinated patient. Since that time, of all the COVID patients admitted, 80% were unvaccinated,” he shared.”

All elective services will remain on pause until further notice within the St. Lawrence Health System. CPH cardiac rehabilitation services at Massena Hospital are slated to reopen in January of 2022.