CHEO readying ICU for adult patients

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CHEO is preparing to accept adult patients 40 and younger for the first time in its nearly five-decade history, the hospital said Tuesday. (CBC - image credit)
CHEO is preparing to accept adult patients 40 and younger for the first time in its nearly five-decade history, the hospital said Tuesday. (CBC - image credit)

For the first time ever, CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, is preparing to admit intensive care patients as old as 40.

With adult hospitals in the region at capacity treating COVID-19 patients, the extra ICU beds being readied will mean patients can stay in Ottawa rather than be transferred elsewhere, the hospital said Tuesday.

The move is "unprecedented" in CHEO's 47-year history, according to president and CEO Alex Munter.

"This is serious. This wave is worse than any of the previous waves in terms of the number of people who are being infected and the number of people who need to be hospitalized in our community and across the province," he told CBC.

"We have uncontrolled spread of COVID in the community at the moment, and even if not a single person was infected from this moment forward, the illness that's already spread is going to mean increased hospitalizations for the next seven, 10, 14 days."

5 beds being added

That's putting a strain on all hospitals including CHEO, which has been running at or near its capacity through the winter and into the spring.

Staff have been working on a plan to accept adults into the ICU, the hospital said, which would mean the unit would grow from seven to 12 beds. As of Tuesday, the seven beds were already occupied by pediatric patients, Munter said.

He said he expects the other five beds will be filled by patients from Ottawa or eastern Ontario hospitals, and said the aim is to prevent the transfer of patients to hospitals outside the region, which is already happening in the Toronto area as hospitals there become overwhelmed.

"This is not going to turn the tide of the pandemic in terms of hospital capacity in our region. It's a small contribution, but it's five people that would ... otherwise then have to be transferred to other cities."

Hospitals working together

While Ottawa hospitals have a plan in place to share resources and transfer patients between them, hospitals across the province are trying to work together to ensure equitable access to care. That now includes two of the province's pediatric hospitals — CHEO and SickKids in Toronto — said Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association.

"The situation is extraordinary," Dale said. "It's really a team Ontario approach to critical care, but it should serve as a real warning sign of a system that is frankly past the outer limits of what it would normally be expected to do and the pressures on it are only increasing."

Munter said CHEO is limiting admissions to patients around 40 and under who are otherwise healthy, because its staff don't have the expertise to care for geriatric patients who may have multiple underlying conditions.

The hospital said it will continue to prioritize children, and the emergency department will remain limited to patients under 18 years of age.