Ontario hospitals told to brace for transfers during worsening COVID-19 surge


TORONTO -- Ontario hospitals have been warned to ready themselves for patient transfers from outside their regions as rising COVID-19 admissions place increasing pressure on the health-care system. 

A memo from Ontario Health - which co-ordinates several agencies in the health-care system - called on hospitals to work together, citing troubling projections that show more than 500 critically ill COVID-19 patients in the province's hospitals by Jan. 24.

"We need to work as a provincial system at a level never required before," Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson wrote in the memo to hospital CEOs dated Thursday.

"What we do together in the next few days and weeks will set the stage for our ability to meet escalating and anticipated hospital capacity demands." 

The memo directed hospitals with unoccupied adult intensive care beds to reserve one-third of the space for transfers from hospitals currently exceeding capacity. 

All hospitals should be ready to accept transfers when directed, the memo said. 

Hospitals are also being asked to standardize their critical care admission criteria with the Ontario Critical Care COVID-19 Command Centre.

The command centre will manage transfers of ICU patients between hospitals. 

Medical facilities in areas with community transmission are advised to continue non-COVID-19 in-person care "without delay," and prepare plans to defer non-urgent care if necessary. 

As of Thursday, the province reported 1,472 Ontarians hospitalized with COVID-19, with 363 people in intensive care and 242 on ventilators. 

The memo to CEOs comes after hospitals in infectious hot spots have postponed surgeries and started to transfer patients due spikes in COVID-19 admissions. 

The Windsor Regional Hospital said more than 50 patients had been transferred to other hospitals as of Thursday amid a capacity crunch from record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

The post-acute care patients were transferred to another facility in Windsor until their condition improves and they can be safely returned to long-term care homes, the hospital said.

Another five acute care patients in Windsor were to be transferred to a hospital in London, Ont., the hospital said.

Some patients were also transferred to Chatham-Kent and Sarnia, but the hospital said plans to transfer more patients were reduced due to rising coronavirus infections there.

Toronto hospitals are also transferring some young patients to SickKids hospital in the city to make room for adult COVID-19 patients. 

Unity Health Toronto said as of Jan. 7, pediatric patients at St. Joseph's Health Centre may be transferred to SickKids if their physician determines care can be met there. 

It said St. Joseph's, William Osler Health System and Humber River Hospital are all working with SickKids.

The effort is expected to continue until COVID-19 patient volumes "return to more reasonable levels." 

Unity Health said the system is working to ensure patients get the care they need during the "complex time" of the pandemic's second wave.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

Your Comments