Military help for pandemic-hit Ontario hospitals starts at Sunnybrook in Toronto on Friday

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Military health-care personnel prepare for patients at a mobile unit at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, a priority site because of 'urgent staffing needs' during the pandemic. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Military health-care personnel prepare for patients at a mobile unit at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, a priority site because of 'urgent staffing needs' during the pandemic. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Canadian military task force that includes health-care personnel will start helping staff at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre's field hospital and intensive-care unit (ICU) in Toronto starting Friday, part of its deployment to Ontario hospitals strained under COVID-19 caseloads.

Maj. Sonia Dumouchel-Connock, a spokesperson for the Joint Task Force Central (JFTC), said Sunnybrook had "urgent staffing needs."

Col. Stéphane Masson, tasked with leading the military's deployment to Ontario hospitals, said prioritizing Sunnybrook was a provincial decision. There are also talks to determine Hamilton's and other area hospitals' needs.

"The members of the task force are in daily discussion with the province to make sure we can provide the best effect with the members we have on the ground," Masson said in an interview on Thursday.

"We are in discussion with Hamilton Health Science to see what their need could be."

WATCH: Here's how Sunnybrook's field hospital will help:

Bringing in the military comes as COVID-19 pushes Ontario hospitals past their limits.

As of Thursday morning, the provincial website reported 2,248 people with COVID-19 in hospital and 884 intensive-care unit patients, 620 of them on ventilators.

Mason said Public Health Canada approved the request for extra help on April 25.

Task force staff to work till at least May 31

Dumouchel-Connock said Task Force PRESIDIO, a squad of 50 military members, trained at the Toronto hospital over the past two days and will start its first shift Friday.

Providing care and support to the partners and the community, there's no better mission than that. - Col. Stéphane Masson, leading military deployment to Ontario hospitals

The task force includes a command and support element, nine critical-care nursing officers and two medical teams with 17 members each.

The critical-care officers have the same skills as civilian ICU nurses, Dumouchel-Connock said, and will help relieve the Sunnybrook ICU, which is at capacity.

The medical teams, each mainly consisting of nursing officers and medical technicians, will help the field hospital's staff.

They'll tend to patients, and help with triage and some assessment of "vulnerable populations."

The field hospital will care for patients in relatively stable condition. There are six patients in the field hospital and two more are expected to enter it Friday.

The task force will work in Toronto until May 31, but could stay longer if the military decides an extended stay is needed.

Masson said the members are ready and proud to get started.

"Providing care and support to the partners and the community, there's no better mission than that."