Quicker response to deaths ensures hospitals aren't overwhelmed as COVID fatalities rise

·4 min read

While hospitals and funeral homes deal with mounting deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, there's a concerted effort underway to make sure they aren't overwhelmed.

An expedited death response is designed to ensure that funeral service providers respond quickly when there is a death

While there have been days when the morgue at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) has neared its capacity of 10, an agreement with local providers — which includes regular communication — has effectively eased concerns, said Cathy Clark, director of safety, security and occupational health at the Barrie's hospital.

“RVH has just recently led a regional group and that includes partners from all of the other hospitals in the region, as well as the health unit and the County of Simcoe, and we’ve been trying to make sure we continue to work together,” said Clark. “We wanted to make sure that, just as a region, we were able to collaborate to meet what we think may be increasing demands.”

Meanwhile, within the facility itself there has been a concerted effort for physicians to issue death certificates expeditiously so the body can be released to the funeral home. Nursing staff also work with families so they can access the resources they need.

RVH is continuing its community-oriented approach through a forum this week for local providers, including hospitals and funeral services providers.

That co-ordinated effort, coupled with regular communication, has ensured local organizations were prepared to deal with possible increases in demand, said Nicole Johnstone, general manager at Jennett Funeral & Cremation Centre in Barrie, Innisfil Funeral Home, and Mundell Funeral Home in Orillia.

Local services, she said, shifted from reactive to proactive mode, preparing early on for possible influxes.

“It always comes down to communication, and the communication is outstanding,” she said.

The second wave of the pandemic has hit this area particularly hard as the COVID-19 UK variant swept through the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, claiming the lives of 49 residents so far plus an essential caregiver linked to the facility.

When deaths occur in long-term care homes, the death is pronounced at the site and the body is released directly to a funeral home.

Funeral homes often experience increased volumes in the winter. Johnstone says recent deaths resulting from the pandemic haven’t had the same impact on the anticipated volume here like other areas have experienced.

“Typically, for whatever reason, I can’t explain it, sometimes January, February, March tend to be busier months of the year, so it’s hard to know,” said Johnstone. “We’ve definitely had some individuals come into our care from there, but not substantial like the GTA experience, that’s for sure.”

When the government declared a second provincial emergency on Jan. 12, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario implemented a registrar’s directive for its 5,300-plus licensees to follow.

“What we’ve told our licensees and funeral directors, transfer services in particular, is to respond quickly within a six-hour window to remove a decedent from a hospital or nursing home once they receive the call. And that will then take some pressure off our very busy hospital/nursing home system,” said David Brazeau, manager of communications for the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, the regulatory body for the industry.

The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Ontario has ranged from 46 to 89 per day during the past week, according to provincial data.

Brazeau points out that some countries were overwhelmed with a sudden increase in the number of deaths. Earlier in the pandemic, institutions dealing with a high number of COVID deaths in Quebec had to rely on external units when morgue capacities were overwhelmed.

Temporary morgues were also established in some Ontario communities dealing with a high number of deaths.

Windsor Regional Hospital reported earlier this month it was storing as many as five bodies in a trailer after its morgue reached capacity and the hospital was dealing with a large number of COVID-19 cases. The area reported up to 17 deaths per day.

Similar concerns arose in London where a mobile unit was also put into use to help with capacity issues.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com