CHEO, Eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, has opened a second pediatric intensive care unit to address the "unprecedented" surge of patients over the past few months, it announced Wednesday.
In a news release Wednesday, CHEO said it has an overflow of critically ill babies and young children — and an early arrival of the peak viral season of acute respiratory infections, like the flu and RSV, is causing "levels never before seen in CHEO's 48-year history."
This second ICU space will open up five more beds, and the hospital says it's reassigning staff to help in the unit.
The hospital thanked funding from the province's Ministry of Health to help open the additional unit.
Officials with CHEO had painted a stark picture of its emergency room in late October, calling the last few months the busiest in the hospital's history.
CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter has told the media the stretch from May to September saw the busiest months in the organization's history.
The hospital was well over capacity with pediatric units seeing 134 per cent occupancy, pediatric intensive care sat at 124 per cent, and the ER averaged about 229 patient visits a day when it was built for 150, he said in October.
On Wednesday, CHEO's chief of staff described the ongoing crisis.
"Unprecedented feels like an overused word at the moment, but there's no better term to describe the crisis facing our pediatric health-care system right now," said Dr. Lindy Samson.
The hospital said some of its other crisis measures include expanded staffing and clinic hours at its Kids Come First and East Ottawa Kids Care clinics, and postponing some surgeries, procedures and appointments "when it is safe" to free up skilled staff for urgent cases.
OPH asks people to wear masks
"At this time, we need Ottawa to come together as a community ... so CHEO can get back to providing care for all children and youth who need it, in a timely manner," Samson is quoted in the news release.
"So please wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces including schools."
This sentiment was echoed by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) Wednesday afternoon.
"Our friends at CHEO have flagged unprecedented volumes of infants & children [with] respiratory symptoms," the public health unit said in a tweet.
OPH said it strongly recommends community members wear well-fitted masks in any indoor or outdoor public settings where it's crowded, and that it supports any business or organization choosing to implement a mask policy.
"Wearing a mask protects not just you, but those around you, too. Thanks, Ottawa."