In the third wave of the pandemic, five COVID-19 patients at Bluewater Health in Sarnia who had been transferred in from other regions have died.
The hospital is one of many in Ontario treating additional patients to ease the burden on hospitals in regions that have been hard hit by the virus in recent months.
CBC News reported last week that across the province over 2,000 patients had been transferred since the start of the year.
Dr. Mike Haddad, chief of staff at Bluewater Health, said that the hospital has taken in 21 patients in the last few weeks from the Greater Toronto Area as well as London.
While the hospital was prepared to take on the extra patients, Haddad said the situation is challenging for the families, who are hours away from their loved ones battling COVID-19.
Haddad spoke with host Chris dela Torre on CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive on Monday.
LISTEN | Dr. Mike Haddad talks about COVID-19 patient transfers at Bluewater Health:
He explained that for patients who are in intensive care and cannot speak, the hospital has arranged for families to see them virtually through video conferencing, while those who are able to talk are connecting with their loved ones on their own.
"Fortunately, now we have better technology such as Facetime, video," he said.
The distance also poses an added barrier in the event of a patient death, and a logistical challenge to return the body.
"It's always crushing to the families and the staff whenever you lose a patient or a loved one ... definitely it's more difficult when someone is far away, but we've done our best to arrange for visits and allow the immediate to see their loved ones when someone passes away," Haddad said.
58 COVID-19 deaths in Sarnia-Lambton
In Sarnia-Lambton, 58 people have died from COVID-19, and two of those deaths occurred in recent days. The public health unit's death toll does not include hospital patients who resided in other municipalities.
The region saw one new COVID-19 case on Tuesday, and there are four active outbreaks and 73 active cases.
Haddad stressed that the community needs to practice "continued vigilance" against COVID-19 transmission, despite "glimmers of hope" that the third wave of the pandemic is subsiding.
"We've lost patients in their 40s and 50s, with families with young kids. Let's just stick together and get over this hump," he said.