Peterborough Regional Health Centre says it has received 40 COVID-19 patient transfers from outside the region since January as it and other Ontario hospitals continue to ramp down non-urgent care and elective surgeries to increase intensive care unit capacity.
In a media conference on Wednesday morning, Dr. Lynn Mikula, the hospital’s chief medical executive and chief of staff, says all of the patient transfers — part of provincial directives — arrived from the east GTA in “varying levels of care.”
Sixteen transfers have occurred in the past two weeks.
“Some come to our intensive care unit, some come to our acute care beds,” said Mikula. “We’ve seen a number of different scenarios.”
As of Wednesday morning, there are 24 patient cases of COVID-19 at PRHC, however, Mikula would not specify how many are in the hospital’s ICU.
“A good portion are in the ICU but I won’t go into details about the specific numbers,” she said.
Mikula noted this week the hospital increased its critical care (ICU) bed capacity to 48 in anticipation of additional patient transfers and higher patient volumes. A patient limit has not been set, she noted.
“While inter-hospital transfers do happen, 40 patients coming from the GTA to Peterborough under these circumstances is unprecedented,” she said. “Highly unusual and not part of our normal practice.”
Ontario hospitals on Monday began a ramp-down of elective surgeries. Mikula said PRHC’s resources will be redirected “as needed” and ramping down of non-urgent care is “necessary.” All other life-saving services and the emergency department will continue as usual.
“While this is disappointing for everybody, we need to do it create immediate, maximum capacity for critical care,” she said. “Our goal is to keep this disruption as short and limited as possible.”
The hospital conducted a ramp-down of non-urgent care in March 2020 during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Non-urgent surgeries and care resumed in June.
She says the hospital was successful following the first ramp-down to tackle that backlog of non-urgent care, however, she can’t predict how long this next ramp-down will extend.
“It is a provincial ramp-down so it’s hard to say the impact going forward,” she said. “To the community, I can say we are going to do everything we can to get back up to speed and then to catch up as quickly as they can. People should speak with their health-care provider to determine what this means to them specifically.”
However, she says currently physicians have not been requested to shift to a critical care department or assist at other hospitals. However, redeployment plans are in place and “ready to go”, if required, as a number of physicians have training that overlaps with critical care training.
“It’s a distinct possibility and our physician groups are prepared,” she said.
Mikula when asked about the mood at the hospital as it tackles the pandemic’s third wave, described it as “certainly tired but resolved.”
“Here we are facing the third wave and are ready to do what is necessary,” she said. “It is stressful and not our normal way of doing business. So we’ve been adapting to these unusual circumstances for a long time and we continue to do so. That puts strain on everybody but we have an incredible team at this hospital.”
As of Tuesday evening, Peterborough Public Health reported 120 active cases of COVID-19. There have been 1,029 cases since the pandemic was declared in the health unit’s jurisdiction — 310 of the cases are considered a variant of concern (VOC).
— More to come.
With files from Jessica Nyznik/Global News Peterborough