What you need to know about London's ICU capacity as COVID cases surge

The London Health Sciences Centre set a new record Thursday with 29 COVID-19 patients in its intensive care unit, and 65 patients hospitalized across the Victoria and University campuses. As cases surge to unprecedented levels, here's how medical staff plan to adapt.

There are now more ICU beds than ever before at LHSC

A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in the intensive care unit. As cases surge to levels never before seen at the London Health Sciences Centre, here's how medical staff plan to adapt. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hospitals across Ontario are filling up with COVID-19 patients, and the London Health Science Centre is no exception. 

LHSC set a new record Thursday with 29 COVID-19 patients in its intensive care unit, and 65 patients hospitalized across the Victoria and University campuses.

Here's what that means for hospital capacity right now — and as caseloads grow — according to LHSC's chief medical officer, Dr. Adam Dukelow.

LHSC is still taking patients from other regions

The London Health Sciences Centre is part of a provincial effort to ease the load on ICUs in other regions of Ontario that are over capacity.

"Five of the medical ward, or non-ICU patients, and 22 of the critical care patients are from outside of London–Middlesex area," Dukelow told London Morning guest host Jackie Sharkey Friday.

But existing capacity at LHSC wasn't enough, said Dukelow, and like many hospitals, they are adding more beds. 

"As of this morning, we will have 18 more ICU beds than we've ever had at London Health Sciences Centre. And there's a potential we'll need to open more. And that enables us to care for both local patients as well as patients from across the province."

Staff have been reassigned to care for these patients

More beds require more staff to care for people in those beds, and so the London Health Sciences Centre is slowing down scheduled surgeries and procedures. 

"We're also looking at potentially using staff from other hospitals in order to help open more ICU beds as we need to," said Dukelow. 

Last Friday, the Ontario government's health agency issued an emergency order that allows the redeployment of health-care professionals and other staff who work for the province's community care agencies to work in hospitals.

The Western Fairgrounds field hospital not yet needed

The 18 new ICU beds are in the post-anesthetic care unit and the Annex — typically used for mental health patients —  at Victoria Hospital. That's on top of the 50 beds that were opened at Victoria Hospital earlier in the pandemic, said Dukelow. 

He said resorting to the Western Fairgrounds field hospital is still "pretty far down the line."

The next step to opening up capacity is to re-open inpatient beds in the E Tower at Victoria Hospital. Only once that capacity is exceeded would hospital leadership start sending people to the field hospital, said Dukelow.

Some patients likely to move into care homes

There are 5,000 "alternative level of care" patients occupying hospital beds across Ontario, waiting for a place in the province's long-term care homes. That includes LHSC, confirmed Dukelow.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care has put out the call for care homes to "do everything they can over the next two weeks to safely admit or readmit hospitalized patients waiting for a space in a long-term care home."

Dukelow says they are in "active discussions" about how to best use long-term care to ease the pressure on LHSC. 

"There will likely be some movement of patients out of hospital into long term care. But that's being discussed at different tables right now and we're awaiting the results of that," he said Friday.


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