The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa will accept young adult patients for the first time in its nearly 50-year history amid overwhelming hospitalizations related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario.
CHEO said Tuesday it is readying intensive care beds and staffing to prepare to accept young adults requiring critical care.
The move is in anticipation of adult-care hospitals in Ottawa hitting capacity with record numbers of COVID-19 patients.
Rather than transfer patients to other areas of the province or country, CHEO says it is opening up bed space to keep them local.
The move would open care at CHEO to those aged approximately 40 and younger and will only come into effect when other hospitals in the region fully exhaust their capacities after activating surge plans.
CHEO chief executive Alex Munter told Global News in an interview that this is the latest example of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the children’s hospital to expand its services beyond paediatric care.
Nearly 60 CHEO staff including respiratory therapists and nurses — workers used to caring for babies — were deployed to support long-term care homes during the earlier months of the pandemic.
Munter said these “unprecedented” measures at CHEO show the COVID-19 pandemic has been an “all-hands on deck” effort in Ottawa.
“These are things that have never happened in the history of our organization and they represent the kind of mobilization that is happening across the health system and the incredible commitment of front-line workers to respond to this health emergency,” he said.
Toronto’s SickKids Hospital announced a similar move last week to alleviate pressure from COVID-19 cases in young adults on the GTA’s health-care system.
Ottawa’s children’s hospital said in a release Tuesday that it has been running “at or near full capacity” through the winter and into early spring.
CHEO management have been developing a plan to expand its existing capacity to 12 beds in the intensive care unit up from the existing seven. The plan will look to minimize impact on paediatric services at the hospital, with CHEO noting that children and youth will continue to be the priority for admissions.
Emergency care at CHEO remains limited to those aged 18 and younger.
Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that 95 people are in hospital locally with the virus as of Tuesday, 30 of whom are now in intensive care. Some 96 per cent of acute care beds in Ottawa were occupied as of April 10, according to OPH, with 77 per cent of ICU beds filled.
But Munter told Global News that beds and ventilators are not the most scarce resources in the third wave of the pandemic. What’s needed most desperately is skilled health workers to operate that equipment and care for the overwhelming numbers of patients flooding ICUs across the province.
“You can have like, a million ventilators. That won’t help you if you don’t have the trained… staff to operate them. That will be our rate-limiting factor,” he said.
Munter’s warnings were echoed in a Twitter thread Tuesday from The Ottawa Hospital, which highlighted the fatigue and burnout affecting health workers in the city.
The Ontario government has moved this week to add ICU beds and hire nursing students to boost staffing levels in hospitals across the province.
Both Munter and The Ottawa Hospital thread highlighted that hospitalizations tend to be a lagging indicator in the pandemic, and the next 10 days will likely see hospital capacities stretched even further amid soaring case counts locally.
The local health-care institutions urged residents to stay home when possible and comply with public health orders in an effort to curb the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the weeks ahead.
OPH reported 194 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a dip from recent case counts above 300. Tuesday tends to be the lowest day of the week for new infections.
— With files from Global News’s Kamil Karamali