Grey-Bruce, Collingwood hospitals taking patient transfers, postponing surgeries

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Hospitals in Grey and Bruce counties have begun increasing bed capacity and ramping down elective surgeries and procedures in response to the escalating bed capacity challenges across the province.

“We recognize that postponing elective surgeries is a hardship for many families,” said Gary Sims, Grey Bruce Health Services (GBHS) president and CEO.

“The ministry issued this directive because we are in a critical situation, and difficult choices have to be made to save lives. We will do everything we can to get those surgeries re-booked when we have the capacity and human resources to do so safely,” Sims continued.

GBHS will be postponing all pre-booked elective and non-urgent surgeries starting April 26. All impacted patients will be contacted directly by their physician’s offices.

Diagnostic imaging services are not impacted at this time.

GBHS reports that there are currently seven COVID-positive patients hospitalized in Grey-Bruce and the intensive care unit (ICU) is currently at capacity.

“We have had the notice that there will be transfers. There were three patients transferred in yesterday and there will be more coming,” said Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for the Grey Bruce Health Unit.

“We hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst at all times. We know these transfers carry the risk of transmission, but we trust our partners that we work with in the hospital to ensure there is no extra risk to the public,” he added.

Over the weekend, Ontario Health West advised hospitals that patient transfers out of the GTA will begin on a daily basis to free up ICU capacity, with up to ten patients per day to the South West Region.

As bed capacity across the Grey Bruce region is already nearing or at 100 per cent, additional beds are required to support these repatriations.

ICU beds within GBHS will be increased from six to eight, and 20 additional beds have been opened to support acute care patients.

In addition, up to twenty more beds will be opened across the six GBHS hospitals for those who are awaiting transfer to an alternate level of care.

The Hanover and District Hospital (HDH) also has 12 additional beds ready to be opened and staffed.

The HDH has and will continue to provide care and support to COVID-19 positive patients as they present to both the emergency and acute care unit.

“The province as a whole is in need,” says Dana Howes, president & CEO of HDH. “All of our beds need to be viewed as system-wide resources to ensure that patients across our province receive safe, quality and appropriate care for both COVID-positive and non-positive patients.”

Visiting restrictions have also been further reduced in all Grey Bruce hospitals to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

The Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (CGMH) began ramping down elective (non-emergency) surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities on April 12.

According to a news release issued by the hospital earlier this month, urgent surgeries, such as cancer care, will continue. The hospital's recently expanded emergency department remains open.

"Patients that have upcoming surgeries and appointments at CGMH will be contacted by their surgeons' offices or the hospital, if their surgery, diagnostic imaging or outpatient clinic is cancelled at this time. Patients that have not received a phone call, should proceed to the hospital as scheduled," states the news release.

Visiting restrictions are in place at CGMH with very limited allowance for a single visitor for certain eligible patients. The visitor policy is online here.

Hospitals across Ontario have been directed by Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, to ramp down and postpone non-emergency surgeries. This is the second time since the start of the pandemic this measure has been taken.

CGMH President and CEO Norah Holder told Collingwood council earlier this week that hospitals and health professionals expect it will take about two years to catch up with the surgeries that were cancelled and delayed during the pandemic.

"We are preparing for an increase in cancer cases due to delays in seeking and providing treatments," she said on Monday.

The Collingwood hospital has a level two intensive care unit, and most COVID patients who are ventilated require a level three unit. The closest ICU at that level is the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

However, Collingwood hospital has accepted COVID patient transfers of individuals whose status is not critical.

In total, CGMH has cared for more than 60 COVID-positive patients and two have died. There is one patient at CGMH currently with a COVID-related illness.

Today, Public Health Ontario reported there are 806 patients in intensive care units across the province because of COVID-19 related illnesses. More than 50 per cent of the ICU beds in Central Region (which includes Collingwood) are being used to care for COVID-19 patients.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reported 83.6 per cent of the region's ICU beds are occupied and about 75 per cent of ventilator capacity is being used.

- With files from Erika Engel

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,