As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sees a steady climb of infections across the province, London, Ont., hospitals are preparing for an increase of patients and ICU capacity.
The shift in care services comes as the Ontario government’s health agency told hospitals Thursday night to stop performing all but emergency and life-saving surgeries because of the growing COVID-19 patient caseload.
According to the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), there are currently 31 patients with coronavirus in the hospital network, including 14 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). That’s up from 21 patients a week ago.
“We already had redeployment plans in place, which meant that we would be moving nurses, therapists and operating room staff to different areas of the hospital to help look after ICU patients,” said Dr. Adam Dukelow, Chief Medical Officer at LHSC.
“So, in order to do that, we have to reduce the number of operating rooms that are functioning in order to free up those precious health and human resources.”
According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, there were 1,492 people with COVID-19 in hospital across the province, including 552 in ICU. The surge in hospitalizations has led to patient transfers from one region to another, including here in London.
Dr. Dukelow says LHSC has been taking in patients from other jurisdictions, including Thunder Bay and the Greater Toronto Area.
“I believe the total number of transfers is around 10 or 11, but it is increasing daily as we’ve been taking a couple a day.”
As the number of patients in London’s hospital network increases, Dr. Dukelow says they may have to pull resources from neighbouring hospitals to open up more ICU beds, or even deploy staff to other locations across Ontario as needed.
“It’s quite concerning and alarming,” he said. “At the same time, I think we have a reasonable idea from past experience that with the province-wide stay-at-home order, assuming there’s a reasonable amount of compliance with that order, we’ll see the peak of our ICU cases in the next two to three, three and a half weeks.”
There are roughly 2,000 ICU beds in Ontario and emergency patients who don’t have COVID-19 typically occupy up to 1,400 of those beds.
Modelling from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table projects up to 800 patients in ICUs by the end of April if the current case trends continue.
“It will be very challenging, and in addition to the strain, we’re also feeling the strain of a society, but also a health-care system that’s been battling a pandemic for more than a year,” said Dr. Dukelow.
“Our providers and our leaders and everyone in the system is quite fatigued at this point in time. Health care individuals in general are, some would say, at the end of the rope, but we’ll push on to serve our community.”
There is already a backlog of more than 245,000 medical procedures deferred from earlier in the pandemic across Ontario, according to the most recent provincial data.
As the hospital network navigates the current pandemic situation, they want to remind the public that the hospitals remain open and that people with urgent or emergent needs should not delay seeking care.