British Columbia

COVID-19 patients arriving 'back to back' at Vancouver General Hospital's ICU, doctor says

A surge in patients with COVID-19 means Vancouver General Hospital's intensive care unit is more strained than ever before with patients arriving "back to back," according to a critical care physician who works there.

Hospitalizations have hit record numbers and health-care workers are 'exhausted,' Dr. Hussein Kanji says

A health-care worker is seen outside the Emergency dept. of the Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver on March 30. A doctor at the hospital says its intensive care unit is more stressed than ever before. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A surge in patients with COVID-19 means Vancouver General Hospital's intensive care unit is under intense strain with patients arriving "back to back," according to a critical care physician who works there.

Dr. Hussein Kanji, the hospital's medical director of the high acuity unit, said everyone working in the ICU is stretched to the limit.

"Our hospital system is incredibly, incredibly stressed right now. Our ICUs are more stressed than they've ever been," Kanji told reporters Friday.

"We're all exhausted."

Friday saw a record 425 patients in hospital with COVID-19 across B.C., including 127 in intensive care — more than ever before. Between 50 and 70 patients a week are now entering critical care with the disease.

On the ground, that's translating into hectic days at VGH.

"They seem to be coming back to back or even at the same time needing admission into the ICU. Just right now we've had two simultaneous admissions into the emergency department needing our care," Kanji said.

'Way, way, way beyond the call of duty'

He said patients are coming in more quickly after their initial diagnosis, they're much sicker and they're younger than what was seen previously in the pandemic. Younger patients are now needing ventilators and other lifesaving interventions more frequently as well.

Data presented by health officials on Thursday shows a significant spike over the last month in the number of patients between the ages of 40 and 59 who are ending up in hospital with COVID-19.

In Ontario, doctors have begun discussing "triage" measures in the event hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. In these scenarios, because of insufficient staff and resources, doctors would have to decide which critically ill patients will receive lifesaving care.

Dr. Hussein Kanji is the medical director of the high acuity unit at Vancouver General Hospital. (CBC News)

Kanji said B.C.'s medical system is not in immediate danger of being overwhelmed and "I very much hope we'll never be in that position."

But he added that the availability of health care professionals will be the limiting factor in B.C.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters Friday that B.C. has enough beds and equipment to handle a significant surge in hospitalizations, but the province cannot spare any workers.

There are reports that Ontario Premier Doug Ford has asked other provinces to send health-care workers to support the crunch in his province, but Dix said it's not possible for B.C. to help out.

Despite the pressures at VGH, Kanji said he's never seen staff working with such a high level of devotion to patient care.

"There isn't a single staff member who hasn't gone way, way, way beyond the call of duty, and it's heartwarming," he said.

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