COVID-19 third wave places more pressure on provincial Intensive Care Units

·3 min read

BRUCE-GREY – South Bruce Grey Health Centre’s CEO Michael Barrett reported to the board of directors last week that the COVID-19 third wave is putting pressure on intensive care units (ICUs) right across the province.

Although it hasn’t affected this area yet, it will, Barrett said.

“The pressure on ICUs is now higher than at the highest point in January,” he said. Hospitals in the GTA are having to transfer patients to hospitals outside the area. “It’s not impacting us now, but as they transfer patients to London, for example, there’ll be pressure.” Local hospitals won’t be receiving ICU patients; our hospitals don’t have ICUs, he explained. But hospitals that do, will need to make room for COVID patients, meaning they will be taking fewer patients from Grey-Bruce.

Barrett restated what he has said at previous meetings, that every hospital bed is an asset belonging to the province.

All hospitals have been asked to hold 15 per cent surge capacity of staffed acute inpatient beds, and/or be ready for potential transfer of patients within 48 hours; this request is challenging due to human resources shortages in health care, Barrett said.

Hospital CEOs across the area continue to meet weekly to review capacity. Barrett said that Walkerton and Durham have returned to their normal number of beds, after they were increased from 15 to 20 and 10 to 14, respectively. Kincardine’s bed capacity was increased from 17 to 20, to assist Grey Bruce Health Services during its COVID-19 outbreak.

“COVID-19 is a challenge for all hospitals in Ontario,” he said. “The majority of hospitals are at capacity.” To accommodate COVID-19 patients, other services such as elective surgeries will slow down.

He noted local hospitals have their own capacity pressures to contend with, also COVID-19 related.

There are 147 fewer long-term care beds in Grey-Bruce than before COVID-19, because of directives prohibiting more than two residents per room, instead of the previous three and in some cases, four. This means patients needing placement in a long-term care facility are spending more time in hospital waiting for a bed.

At present, there are no COVID-19 patients in SBGHC hospitals (as of press time) but volumes at assessment centres are picking up. Where there have been 30-35 swabs per day being done, it’s up to 53 a day, Barrett said.

Barrett’s report to the board included a number of additional items, including an update on the Chesley hospital’s emergency department. Hours of operation continue to be reduced although the goal remains to reopen the emergency department to 24/7 service.

Barrett shared one piece of promising news. In February, a “sustainability proposal” was submitted to the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) to support the reopening of emergency departments to full 24-hour service at both the Chesley and Clinton hospitals. On March 22, SBGHC and HPHA leadership with the interim assistant deputy minister of health, hospitals branch, and a large group of ministry and Ontario Health staff to discuss the proposal. “They had a lot of people there… encouraging,” said Barrett.

Barrett also reported to the board on the continuing transition in the Ontario health care structure. On March 17 of this year, the Minister of Health issued orders to move non-patient-care functions from Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) to Ontario Health. This had been scheduled for 2020, but was deferred because of the pandemic. It took effect on April 1, 2021.

He said that in simple terms, this means the funding, accountability, performance and planning responsibilities that were part of the LHIN structure are transitioning to Ontario Health.

The remaining home and community care responsibilities that are part of the LHIN – Community Care Access Centres – will not be moving into Ontario Health but are intended to transition at some point in the future to the Ontario Health Teams. The local CCAC will begin operating under a new business name, Home and Community Care Support Services South West.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times