Preparing for the surge: Ottawa-area hospitals may have to move patients around during crisis

Hospitals in eastern Ontario are coordinating patient admissions and starting to transfer patients to make sure they have space for any potential surge in COVID-19 cases. 

'Patient flow' strategy designed to ensure there's enough space for COVID-19 cases

The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus is part of the regional effort to make sure there's enough beds in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Hospitals in eastern Ontario are co-ordinating admissions and starting to transfer patients to make sure they have space for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. 

The next step will be to prepare non-hospital venues — like hotels, convention centres and unoccupied retirement homes — to receive patients who no longer require urgent care, according to health officials.

"We [already] took over an arena and we did an assessment centre and we took over two schools and made them into care clinics," said Dr. Andrew Willmore, medical director for the Ottawa Hospital's emergency department and incident commander for the Champlain health region.

The measures, Willmore said, follow on successful efforts to divert COVID-19 testing away from emergency rooms and into new facilities like an assessment centre at the Brewer Arena and care clinics in both the west and east ends.

Willmore said hospital and city staff are evaluating other possible sites to see if they'll meet patients' needs.

"It comes down to how many bathrooms are available, what's the floor plan like, where are you going to stage your clinical areas, what are the walls made out of, are there carpets," said Willmore.

"All of these things factor in."

Off-site facilities such as the COVID-19 assessment centre at the Brewer Arena have helped divert 6,000 patients from the Ottawa Hospital system, Willmore said. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Eastern Ontario hospitals are co-ordinating admissions so patients needing critical care for COVID-19 can be directed to the Ottawa Hospital's General and Civic campuses, CHEO, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the Queensway Carleton, Montfort, Pembroke Regional and the Cornwall Community Hospital.

The Hawkesbury District and General Hospital is also involved in providing acute care for COVID-19 patients, Willmore said.

Those hospitals will continue to treat patients with other ailments, Willmore said, but some may be transferred if other hospitals have more room to provide the care they need.

Patient transfers will not be limited to those needing minimal care.

Dr. Andrew Willmore, medical director of emergency management at The Ottawa Hospital, is also incident commander for hospitals in the Champlain region responding to COVID-19. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'Balance the load'

"There's going to be folks that are sicker, actually, requiring a lot of care that can be moved as well," Willmore said. 

"We can support each other to balance the load."

Willmore said so far the eastern Ontario hospital system has been able to handle the number of COVID-19 cases, adding that a few patient transfers have already taken place.

As the hospital adds surge capacity, Willmore said, it's important for the public to understand if they stray from physical distancing guidelines the COVID-19 outbreak could still be "potentially catastrophic."

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