Barrie field hospital slowly ramping up to take pressure off other health-care facilities

·4 min read

A field hospital designed to accommodate an influx of patients for the region has slowly been gearing up with acute care patients as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, providing relief for hospitals as far away as Toronto.

Georgian Bay General Hospital in Midland and Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston have each sent one patient to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s 70-bed temporary regional Pandemic Response Unit (PRU) in Barrie.

RVH has also moved some of its own acute care patients into the field hospital set up in its parking lot. The temporary facility is designed to free up space in the main hospital as well as the other hospitals in the region as they continue to deal with increased demands resulting from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, patients from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have been able to free up bed spaces in their facilities by sending patients to RVH’s main facility.

Since Dec. 5, RVH has received 59 transfers from the GTA. Eight of those were in the intensive care unit (ICU).

As of Thursday, 24 GTA patients were receiving treatment at the Barrie hospital.

“The PRU is offering the support to the main hospital in our region and in doing so we’re able to help everyone even outside of our region,” said Charmaine Smith, interim manager of the regional Pandemic Response Unit. “It’s sort of been a gradual introduction.

“We have all of the means to anything we need,” she added, including diagnostic imaging and lab work.

Patients infected with COVID remain in the main hospital, while the field hospital is meant to accommodate short-stay, stable patients of fewer than five days.

A full complement of nursing staff — including a resource nurse, registered nurses, registered practical nurses and patient care assistants — are on hand and are supported when needed by other resources, including physiotherapists, occupational therapist and speech therapy. Physicians are also regularly on site to assess patients and to provide care and discharge planning.

The idea, Smith said, is that the temporary unit becomes part of the discharge plan for the patient while serving as a sort of release valve for the main hospitals.

The field hospital is slowly ramping up with the ability to fill more of its beds as more patients infected with COVID-19 find themselves in area hospitals.

So far, the maximum number of acute care patients being treated in the field hospital at one time has been 14, while the current capacity is 23. Since it opened in November, 105 patients coming into the field hospital have been discharged.

The slow introduction of patients to the facility allows patients, family members and staff to acclimatize to the new space while staffing recruitment continues, all in preparation for its eventual full use, if it’s required.

Patients and family members are provided information about the field hospital before the patient arrives so that they know what to expect.

The different stages and level of care that are being introduced is leading to gradually increasing the type of patient there to include more complex cases so that it can open up its capacity and accept more patients.

“We’ve already completed 50 per cent of the recruitment,” said Smith. “We’re hiring, orienting, recruiting the staff.”

But there is also a large degree of unpredictability in the current pandemic, so there are regular reviews to determine what those at the field hospital can do to support the main hospital and the entire region.

Smith says the whole process has been amazing as those working in the area’s hospital sector pull together to address the constantly evolving issues.

Most patients, she added, are happy to come to the PRU and have provided positive feedback about their care there.

In addition to the hospitals in Barrie, Midland and Alliston, the field hospital works closely and meets regularly to support Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and Muskoka Algonquin Health Care.

“We’re supporting our region as best we can to work through this COVID pandemic and all the stresses and challenges it’s brought to us in our region,” said Smith. “It’s doing what we wanted it to do so far. It’s of great benefit to our region.

“We prepared enough ahead of time that we don’t have to scramble and everybody feels safe and we have what we need. It’s not like a last-minute fix.”

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,