How London hospitals are planning for a potential flood of COVID-19 patients

London’s hospitals are ramping up for an expected surge in COVID-19 patients and the region’s largest hospital, LHSC, is looking to reduce patient occupancy in order to create additional capacity.

LHSC and St. Joe's are trying to free up beds to create additional capacity

London Health Sciences Centre (Dave Chidley)

London's hospitals are ramping up for an expected surge in COVID-19 patients with the region's largest hospital looking to reduce patient occupancy so there are more available beds.

The London Health Sciences Centre hasn't treated a significant number of coronavirus cases but hospital staff said it will start posting the numbers soon.

One Londoner, an 80-year-old woman, is currently being treated in hospital after she contracted the virus. All others who have tested positive in the London area are in self-isolation at home. 

Neil Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), said the hospital has already lowered occupancy in medical and surgical areas to 70 per cent. That's freed up more than 250 beds for potential COVID-19 cases.

Johnson said the hospital is also trying to open up more critical care beds, but it's a delicate balancing act because they have to be ready for anything that comes their way.

Johnson spoke to CBC's London Morning Wednesday. Hear the full interview here:

LHSC Chief Operating officer Neil Johnson gives London Morning an update on plans to cope with an increase of patients battling COVID-19. 7:21

"You know moms are still going to deliver babies. People are still going to have heart attacks and strokes and accidents, and we have to be ready to care for them as well. So sometimes it's a little bit difficult to get those capacities down."

Johnson said LHSC will bring in more beds and will repurpose some of the operating rooms no longer in use to support critical care patients.

St. Joseph's Health Care London is also reducing elective surgeries and outpatient clinics so that staff can be moved into new roles to support a potential influx of patients.

Preparing for COVID-19 is a team effort 

St. Joe's hospital (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Both London hospitals are working closely together, with early morning meetings and specialized pandemic teams reviewing the latest directives from the Ministry of Health.

Johnson said everyone is closely watching the rising infection rates in New York.

"The numbers there are quite scary. But I think in Ontario, we've taken a different approach around public health measures and social distancing and closing businesses earlier. And so I'm hoping that helps us along the way."

Neil Johnson is Chief Operating Officer at the London Health Sciences Centre (Supplied: London Health Sciences Centre)

Johnson said LHSC will likely make use of new emergency powers from the province to redeploy staff to different areas of the hospital or different work assignments.

He says some managers have already been redeployed and that everyone has to be ready to take on new and different roles and responsibilities.

"Obviously, when you get down to clinical frontline staff, it's a little bit different. We have to make sure that the folks have the right skills, knowledge, and ability to care for different types of patients."

But, he added, they're taking all of that into consideration.

LSHC employs 12,000 people and officials are preparing for the likelihood that some will contract coronavirus and have to be temporarily replaced.

As for pandemic supplies and equipment, Johnson says LHSC is in good shape for now. He says the disruption in international supply chains has created some challenges, but the hospital is looking to buy from new sources. 

The hospital has also received dozens of donations of personal protective equipment from businesses.