COVID-19 surge forces Cornwall hospital to transfer patients

·2 min read
A surge of COVID-19 patients, many with coronavirus variants, is pushing hospitals throughout eastern Ontario to their limit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A surge of COVID-19 patients, many with coronavirus variants, is pushing hospitals throughout eastern Ontario to their limit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

A surge of COVID-19 patients is putting unprecedented pressure on the Cornwall Community Hospital, forcing it to transfer other patients elsewhere for care, according to its CEO.

During an update to Cornwall city council Thursday evening, Jeanette Despatie said the eastern Ontario hospital is being stretched to the limit, both in terms of capacity and staffing.

"These are demands we've quite honestly never seen before," Despatie said.

We ... as hospitals are really feeling like we're losing the battle right now. - Jeanette Despatie, Cornwall Community Hospital

As of Thursday, the hospital, which normally has 160 beds, was caring for 205 patients. Its ICU has grown from 11 patients to 15, five of whom are being treated for COVID-19.

Despatie said some patients are being transferred to hospitals in Brockville, Winchester and Kemptville to alleviate the pressure.

"That's an important message for our community ... to understand that patients may be transferred out of Cornwall because we need to be able to take those COVID patients or other patients requiring the higher level of care for critical care," she said.

Patients younger, sicker

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, told councillors that 72 per cent of the region's cases involve so-called variants of concern. Patients with those variants are 50 per cent more likely to require hospitalization, twice as likely to end up in intensive care, and face a 50 per cent higher mortality rate, he said.

"We're seeing it locally," Roumeliotis said. "The hospitalizations are starting to look a bit younger and [are staying] longer in the ICU."

On Thursday night, the province sent a memo to hospitals telling them to halt all but emergency and life-saving surgeries because of the growing caseload of COVID-19 patients.

Despatie said the Cornwall hospital had already reduced elective surgeries to free up resources for the anticipated surge.

"We ... as hospitals are really feeling like we're losing the battle right now," she said.

Ottawa hospitals also stretched thin

In Ottawa, both the Montfort and Queensway Carleton hospitals had already started postponing elective surgeries that require hospitalization.

In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the Montfort said the hospital began delaying procedures in response to a provincial request that hospitals remain at 85 per cent of their capacity to make room for an influx of COVID-19 patients. As of Wednesday, Montfort was at 94 per cent of its capacity.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, the Queensway Carleton announced it would postpone elective surgeries for four weeks. The hospital said it was at 113 per cent capacity and had opened a secondary ICU.

According to the Queensway Carleton, the strain has been increasing for the past two weeks, and patients are presenting at the ER with more severe symptoms.

"It is an all-hands-on-deck situation," the hospital said.