Adult hospitals accept some teen patients to help ease burden on CHEO

CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, has been over-capacity for weeks. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, has been over-capacity for weeks. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Ontario Health has issued a directive requiring adult acute care hospitals in the region to receive transfers of 16- and 17-year-old patients to help alleviate the burden on CHEO, eastern Ontario's overcrowded children's hospital.

The Ottawa Hospital, Queensway Carleton Hospital and Hôpital Montfort will be among those accepting youth aged 16 and older.

"We're grateful to our partner hospitals," said Dr. Lindy Samson, chief medical officer and chief of staff at CHEO. "We really want to make sure we have the space and capacity to care for those kids."

Samson said CHEO's inpatient care beds are around 190 per cent capacity as of Friday. Nearly one in six of those patients, she said, requires some level of intensive care — and the hospital's ICU is likewise double its capacity.

The surge in patients is being driven by an early and hard-hitting respiratory viral season, including higher than normal cases of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19.


"The treatment of children with RSV is not new, and this is a very experienced team and organization. What's new is the number of children all at once," said Alex Munter, CHEO's president and CEO.

Samson added the provincial directive was the result of close collaboration between the hospital and Ontario Health, but she did not specify which organization led the discussions.

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones told Radio-Canada some Ottawa-area children are being cared for in hospitals in Kingston due to the lack of beds. Kingston is about 175 kilometres from Ottawa, or about a two-hour drive.

The Kingston Health Sciences Centre confirmed in an email to CBC its pediatric program had received 13 patient transfers from outside southeastern Ontario as of Friday, although it did not say how many had come from Ottawa.

The directive does not apply to youth who have eating disorders, who have experienced sexual assault, or who are being followed by CHEO for chronic conditions.

More patients requiring immediate health interventions

Ken Farion, CHEO's vice-president of quality, strategy and family partnership, said the hospital's emergency room is seeing more cases of young children who require immediate interventions.

Last year, the hospital treated 17 children who needed an urgent health intervention in the first two weeks of November. This year, the hospital treated 44 in that same two-week span, most of whom were young babies with fever and respiratory distress.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

Bernie Robinson, acting president for the Ontario Nurses Association, said the current situation in children's hospitals is "a shame."

"The Ontario government has said they had planned for this surge months ago, but we really haven't seen any real plan," Robinson said. "This was their plan."

She added adult hospitals across the province are already "overstretched," and the additional teenage patients will only make it more difficult for health-care workers to provide quality care.

Martine Potvin, vice president of clinical programs and chief nursing officer at Hôpital Montfort, said the hospital won't have to make any structural changes to accommodate the new patients.

"We can also be there for CHEO," Potvin said.