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Amid COVID-19 surge, Ontario prepares for interhospital patient transfers

Last Updated Jan 7, 2021 at 11:17 pm EST

Exterior view of Markham Stouffville Hospital. CITYNEWS

Hospitals told to prepare for the transfer of potentially hundreds of patients across regions

Updated projections show 500-plus COVID-19 patients in ICU, 1,700 hospitalizations by end of month

Hospitals in COVID hotspots will continue “time-sensitive” surgeries and procedures

As surging COVID-19 infections intensify the strain on the province’s health-care system, hospitals have been told by the Ontario government to prepare for the transfer of potentially hundreds of patients across regions.

In a memo to hospitals Thursday obtained by CityNews, Ontario Health president and CEO Matthew Anderson said they must be ready to accept patients from other hospitals in and outside their regions, “when directed by their regional COVID-19 response structure.”

According to the memo, updated projections show the province will see more than 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, and more than 1,700 hospitalizations related to the virus before the end of the month.

Several Toronto area hospitals announced Thursday they are closing their pediatric wards to help create adult inpatient capacity.

Unity Health Toronto said in a statement its St. Joseph’s site, along with William Osler Health System and Humber River Hospital, may transfer pediatric patients who need to be hospitalized to SickKids, where there is capacity.

“Our youngest patients remain a top priority, and we continue to provide consultative, neonatal and ambulatory care for all our pediatric patients, including at our Just For Kids Clinic, Paediatric Consultation Clinic and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” said the statement.

In the memo Anderson goes on to list “additional actions that hospitals must take immediately” to make sure people get the care they need.

Hospitals that have unoccupied intensive care beds must reserve approximately one-third of those beds for transfers from hospitals that have no ICU capacity.

The transfers of ICU patients between hospitals will be managed by the Ontario-wide Critical Care COVID-19 Command Centre.

Hospitals in COVID hotspots will continue “time-sensitive” surgeries and procedures, including certain cancer treatments, transplants, cardiac and neurological care. And the hospitals must “have a plan in place to appropriately defer non-time-sensitive care.”

“We need to work as a provincial system at a level never required before,” Anderson said in the memo. “This means that no hospitals should feel they are on their own.”