Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Region hospitals taking patient transfers from areas hit hardest by COVID

Hospitals in the Waterloo Region have already started taking patient transfers from outside the region as the province seeks to relieve pressure on facilities where COVID-19 infection rates are highest.

'A couple of' patients were transferred into the region this week, according to LHIN's COVID response lead

A spokesperson for Grand River Hospital says it is prepared to open another medicine unit and expand ICU capacity by 14 beds if necessary. (Brian St. Denis/CBC)

Hospitals in the Waterloo Region have started taking patient transfers from outside the region as the province seeks to relieve pressure on facilities where COVID-19 infection rates are highest.

The president and CEO of Ontario Health, Matthew Anderson, issued a memo Thursday telling hospitals to prepare for transfers of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. 

'A couple of' patients were transferred into Waterloo Region hospitals this week, said Lee Fairclough, the president of St. Mary's Hospital and the hospital lead for the COVID-19 response for the Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

"If we are able to support them, and we can plan to help to support them, we will," Fairclough said of the hospitals that are sending patients into the region. 

"The reason why we feel comfortable with this is that we could easily be in a similar situation at some point in this region. We're seeing cases rise today in our region and know that they could easily as well translate into hospitalizations. So really we need to come together as a health system."

Anderson told hospitals in his memo that those with intensive care space must reserve one-third of the beds for patient transfers.

ICUs at high capacity

On Friday, only one of the 25 ICU beds at St. Mary's Hospital was open. Fairclough said. Five of the hospital's ICU patients are currently on ventilators. Four are hospitalized for COVID-19 related illness. 

Hospital ICUs across the region have fluctuated between 80 per cent capacity and more than 90 per cent this week, Fairclough said. 

They will continue to look for ways to free up more space, including repurposing other spaces in the hospital, she said.

Grand River Hospital is prepared to open an additional medicine unit with capacity for up to 31 patients if needed, spokesperson Michelle Meyer told CBC in an email. It can also open an additional 14-bed intensive care unit, if necessary. 

The need to make way for patient transfers won't affect urgent and emergency medical procedures in the region, Fairclough said, but it could lead to further reductions in inpatient elective surgeries. 

"We are working hard to maintain our day procedures as long as we can," she added, "knowing that there was a backlog that we are working on to catch up from wave one."

Maintaining necessary levels of healthy staff at the hospitals is "Something that we work on every day," Fairclough added. 

Staff are now experienced with COVID-19-related safety precautions, and Fairclough said she feels confident that the hospital's systems allow them to care for both people who aren't COVID positive and those who are. 

"We've got different areas of the hospital where they're cared for within the unit. There's dedicated space for those that are COVID positive," she said. "And particularly in the ICU, they're very experienced in using PPE."

With files from Mike Crawley

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