WINDSOR, ONT. -- The pandemic's effect on Ontario's hospital system has been extensive, including tens of thousands of delayed elective surgeries.

The province has announced $324 million in additional funding to help ease that pandemic-driven backlog, asking hospitals to run at 115 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels.

Windsor Regional Hospital, which typically performs 30,000 surgeries a year, will be among the Ontario hospitals boosting operating capacity to address that backlog, which officials say is currently at 3,500.

The hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Wassim Saad, says it could take a year to catch up – and it won’t be easy.

"Even if tomorrow they gave us a billion dollars to clear out the backlog, if you don’t have the staff and personnel to be able to do those procedures and to look after those patients, you're not going to be able to catch up,” Saad says. “So to ask hospitals to do 115 per cent is a big ask. It's no small task."

Saad says staff have been working hard throughout the pandemic and many are in need of some time off, which could complicate the push to complete more in-house surgeries. He says the hospital will need to either hire more staff or ask people to do more.

Other limiting factors include physical space and the looming threat of a fourth wave of the virus this fall.

On the positive side, the hospital has still been performing essential surgeries uninterrupted throughout the pandemic.

“We prioritize cancer surgeries, so we never once delayed any cancer surgeries and we kept them going throughout the pandemic, even in the first wave when everything else was shut down,” he says.

Other surgeries, such as cataracts and fractures, were accommodated off-site with physician partners, to ensure the backlog was limited to non-essential surgeries only, Dr. Saad says.

“We do have a committee that's meant to prioritize cases,” Dr. Saad says. “So unfortunately it's not a first come, first served basis. If you do end up on one of those lists, you're being reviewed on a weekly basis to see what the criteria are for you to jump the queue. Hang in there. We're definitely working on it.”