London hospital network ready to transfer patients amid outbreak, still open for biz

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A London, Ont., hospital network that stopped admissions to certain wards at one of its facilities amid a COVID-19 outbreak said Wednesday that patients were still welcome at its University Hospital, noting that some might be transferred to a different site if needed. 

The London Health Sciences Centre – which operates several hospitals – said the emergency room at the University Hospital was still open and scheduled surgeries were still taking place. 

"We're very much open for business," said Niel Johnson, the hospital network's chief operating officer. 

"If people have emergency needs, please seek us out. We'll make sure you get cared for."

The hospital network stopped new admissions to four medical units at the University Hospital on Tuesday in an effort to fight a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 41 patients and staff so far.

The units include the University Hospital's general medicine ward and its palliative care ward. Surgical and orthopedic units, among others, remain open, Johnson said. 

People who need care are still encouraged to come to the University Hospital and staff will determine where they need to be admitted if necessary, Johnson said. 

Some who may have been admitted to now-closed wards at the University Hospital will be sent to the network's Victoria Hospital, Johnson said. 

"We want to make sure that people, when they come into the hospital, are confident that they're gonna have the right care that's available to them," he said.

"We have mechanisms in London to move patients between our two main sites."

The hospital network has already added 12 additional acute care beds and will be adding 12 more at Victoria Hospital to deal with the transfers, he said.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit had recommended the halt to admissions to the medical units at the University Hospital on Tuesday and said the move would be reassessed in 48 hours.

Visitors and designated care partners are also not currently permitted at the affected units.

Johnson said the hospital is routinely testing patients and staff in affected units.

The network also decided to pause routine staff and physicians rotations between medicine areas, he said.

"We've restricted some of that staffing so people are just working at one area. That reduces the likelihood of spread," Johnson said.

Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, has called the situation at the University Hospital "alarming."

“This is a reminder that COVID can and will strike anywhere if we let our guard down," he said earlier this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press