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7 patients transferred to Grand River Hospital in Kitchener from across the GTA

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There are currently eight patients at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener from outside of Waterloo Region due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a spokesperson.

Seven patients are from the west end of the GTA (including Brampton, Etobicoke, Humber and Credit Valley) while the eighth is from Listowel, GRH spokesperson Cheryl Evans told Global News.

Read more: Ontario hospitals told to prepare for out-of-region patients amid rising coronavirus cases

She could not say whether the patients were suffering from COVID-19 due to privacy issues.

“This is not a new practice; these types of patient transfers happen all of the time, and are not limited to critical care,” Evans said, although the number is higher than normal.

She says the hospitals use a provincial call center called CritiCall to look for empty beds that meet the needs of patients when space is an issue.

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“With COVID, these capacity challenges have increased across the province with hospitals experiencing an increase in patient volumes from COVID and typical patient needs,” Evans explained.

“As a result, we are experiencing an increase in patient transfers.”

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Evans says they have more space if need be at the moment as they had planned ahead as directed by the province.

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“By taking a team approach across the province, maximum flexibility can be realized to use our collective capacity in the most efficient way,” she noted.

“Overall, the goal is to create as much capacity as we can, maintain safe care, and minimize disruption to patients and families.”

Read more: Ontario reports 3,326 new coronavirus cases, 62 more deaths

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The areas other two hospitals, St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener and Cambridge Memorial Hospital, do not currently have any patients from outside the area.

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The intensive care unit at the hospital in Cambridge is currently running above pre-pandemic capacity, according to a hospital spokesperson. It is normally funded for 10 beds but currently has 12 in hospital.

“We can surge if needed – there is a plan that is used for just these occasions and catastrophes,’ Stephan Beckhoff told Global News in an email.

He said that the concern is not in the number of beds but rather having the people in place who have the proper expertise to deal with the equipment that is needed in the intensive care units.

Read more: Research finds stress, anxiety climbing for health-care workers during COVID-19 pandemic

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Kitchener’s other hospital is the region’s cardiac care centre and as such, there has been a commitment to keep access open to the program, according to hospital spokesperson Anne Kelly.

“In Waterloo Wellington capacity is reviewed on a daily basis first. Accepting patients from out of region is a regional decision made on a daily basis,” Kelly explained in an email.

“St. Mary’s has three beds available as of this morning, but we must be mindful of our need to accept cardiac patients.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to batter the province, even more patients may be transferred to area hospitals over the coming days.

Read more: Toronto hospital capacity crunch prompts pediatric transfers to SickKids to make space

Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson recently issues a warning to hospital CEOs that they needed to be prepared to accept patients from outside of their regions.

“Updated projections show that by Jan. 24, the province will see more than 500 COVID-19-related critical illness patients in intensive care units and over 1,700 COVID-19 hospitalizations,” he wrote in a memo on Jan. 7.

“To meet these needs, we must continue to do more to work as a single, seamless hospital system.”

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“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.”

For those facilities with available ICU bed capacity, hospital staff were directed to keep a third of that capacity for patients from overwhelmed hospitals who need to be transferred for care. The hospitals were directed to review the admission of patients to critical-care beds.

–With files from Global News’ Nick Westoll