Field hospitals and cancelled surgeries: health-care system under siege by rising COVID-19 cases
TORONTO -- Over the past week, the number of people experiencing severe illness due to COVID-19 has continued to rise -- and it’s taking such a toll on hospital resources that several regions have been forced to utilize or set up field hospitals.
The stress on Canada's health-care system is now in full view.
“It's really over the last three or four weeks that we saw that there was a certain inexorable rise in the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations,” Dr. Ian Preyra, Chief of Staff at Joseph Brant Hospital, told CTV News.
On the grounds of Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., is a field hospital first built in April, called the Pandemic Response Unit. Despite standing for months, it has never been used -- until now.
The 16,000 square foot field hospital, which holds 76 beds, is taking patients this week. The move was deemed necessary in order to continue schedule surgeries and other important services that were threatened with derailment as acute care units reached their bursting point with COVID-19 patients.
Preyra explained that those moving into the field unit would be COVID-19 patients who had already been treated inside the actual hospital, and whose condition had improved.
“We're moving them in here to create more space in the hospital for sicker patients who need care,” Preyra said.
In the first wave of the pandemic, hospitals cleared out to make way for COVID-19’s first pass. This time, hospitals are trying to stay open for all other elective surgeries and emergencies, but it’s no easy task with cases rising.
In the past seven days, there were an average of more than 4,000 individuals with COVID-19 being treated in Canadian hospitals, with 770 of them in critical care.
The Pandemic Response Unit is far from the only field hospital or new health-care strategy being brought into use across Canada -- a sign that things are getting worse.
In Oakville, Ont., an internal field hospital set up in an empty floor of a hospital is now treating a rising number of patients.
In Edmonton, another field hospital is under construction in an athletic complex on the University of Alberta campus. The 100-bed facility will only be used if hospital limits are reached, officials said in December.
Hospitals aren't the only places at capacity -- in Windsor, Ont. the Windsor Regional Hospital has started to use its temporary morgue at the Met Campus for the first time since it was built last spring. They can only hold 12 bodies in the regular morgue, and 14 people died recently, according to WRH hospital CEO David Musyj, forcing them to turn to the temporary solution.
And in London, Ont., hospital officials have brought in a refrigerated trailer to hold bodies after the regional morgue filled up -- hitting its maximum capacity at 28 bodies.
“Right now and the next months are going to be really difficult in Canada,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, said Tuesday. “So reducing any risks of importation and escalation of the epidemic, or pandemic, in Canada is really important.”
Even more hard decisions are coming. The London Health Sciences Centre has started cancelling surgeries because of the sheer number of COVID-19 cases they are dealing with, something that may become a reality in more regions if cases keep climbing.
“You may come to a point where the surgery, or the elective surgery, that you are going to have will be delayed somewhat,” Paul-Emile Clouter, president and CEO of HealthCareCAN, told CTV News. “People with mental health problems might have to wait much longer to get the care.”
Measures that -- while they may be necessary -- add further long-term strain to a health care system that is already under incredible pressure.