Hospitals across Ontario are quickly filling up with COVID-19 patients as new case numbers continue to break provincial records.
As a result, staff are finding new ways to care for patients by way of cancelling various services, relocating patients and method of treatment. The province is also urging long-term care homes to admit those currently on a waiting list for space in a home who until this point have been receiving care in a hospital.
GTA mother Neda, who wishes to only be identified only by her first name due to privacy concerns, is currently in a Toronto hospital getting treated for COVID-19. Neda is also 31 weeks pregnant.
“My worst nightmare has now come true,” she said.
“It’s terrifying and I had moments of doubt. Should I send my son to daycare? Should I not? It’s been very scary.”
Neda’s fears about having a baby during the pandemic have worsened as capacity peaks at hospitals across the province.
In Port Perry, the hospital’s labour and delivery department has been closed to make room for other patients.
“We have seen a record number of admissions this week, higher than any point we’ve seen during the pandemic,” said Lakeridge Health CEO Cynthia Davis.
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She says it was a “difficult decision around reducing and relocating services in our region.”
Lakeridge Health adds that the extra eight beds at the Port Perry hospital will be used for non-COVID-19 patients transferred from hospitals to the rest of the region, including the Ajax Pickering Hospital and the Oshawa Hospital, which are currently providing care to COVID-19-positive patients.
As for labour and delivery patients, they will also be relocated to other hospitals.
Davis underlines, however, that those with “any emergency related to pregnancies” can still attend the Port Perry hospital, where visitors will be treated in the emergency department.
A Lakeridge Health spokesperson told Global News “this ‘co-horting’ allows for the safest care and enables our teams to focus on that particular patient population. It also helps to reduce possible transmissions.”
The hospital network has also reduced the number of surgeries and has transferred pediatric patients to SickKids hospital.
The new procedures speak to health-care facilities’ dire need for communities to adhere to provincial COVID-19 guidelines.
“We need them to follow the provincial directive to stay at home unless otherwise essential,” Lakeridge Health said.
It goes on to remind residents to physically distance, wear masks, wash their hands and get tested immediately if they are symptomatic. If symptomatic, it says, people should also isolate as they await their test results.
“The variant is far more transmissible than the earlier strain and anything we can all collectively do to help prevent transmission is needed.”
Meanwhile, emergency room physicians warn they’ve already been pushed past their limits.
“We’re accommodating as much as we can, but it is scary when we look at the projections,” said Peel ER doctor Gaibrie Stephen.
“If we’re feeling this already with the case counts that we’re having now, we’re preparing for more and we’re going to be able to accommodate more, but there’s a breaking point for everything, and that scares me as a front-line worker.”
Stephen says staff have been forced to look at other ways to make room for the influx of COVID-19 patients, which may include “(seeing) patients in the waiting room or seeing patients in non-traditional places of the emergency department.”
The province is responding to overburdened hospitals by advising long-term care homes to admit those currently on a waiting list for a space in a home who have been receiving care in hospital.
The move is being criticized by long-term care home researcher and advocate Vivian Stamatopoulos.
“We know that if we start to offload this care from hospitals to these facilities on an already burnt out and run down (personal support worker) workforce, we’re going to have further attrition in this sector,” she said.
“It’s going to put everyone at risk. It’s going to put the existing long-term care home residents at risk, it’s going to put the transferred over patients at risk, who in no way will receive the same kind of care that they would receive in a hospital.”
Davis says Lakeridge Health is looking at several options to support a “levelling of patients where there is capacity in the system. We’ve been working with long-term care homes in (Durham) region” through a community support program.
She adds that patients are transferred to various homes depending on availability. There is a possibility patients could be relocated to homes that have been hit hard with COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths, including Sunnycrest and Orchard Villa.
The province says it is currently aiming to complete at least 1,500 placements across 626 long-term care homes in Ontario.