LTC homes urged to make space as hospitals brace for flood of COVID-19 patients

Long-term care facilities in Ottawa and across Ontario are being urged to free up more space to help the province's hospitals handle the building surge of COVID-19 patients.

5,000 'alternative level of care' patients occupying hospital beds across Ontario

One in six patients at Ottawa's Montfort Hospital is currently awaiting transfer to another facility, including long-term care homes. (Genevieve Picard/Montfort Hospital)

Long-term care facilities in Ottawa and across Ontario are being urged to free up more space to help the province's hospitals handle the building surge of COVID-19 patients.

"We really could use the help right now," said Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association.

 At issue are some 5,000 "alternate level of care" (ALC) patients who are currently in hospital, but who are awaiting either home care service or transfer to other facilities, often long-term care (LTC) homes. The problem is especially acute in eastern Ontario, where 616 ALC patients are currently awaiting more appropriate levels of care.

We're talking about lives.- Julie Budd, Montfort Hospital

ALC patients currently occupy one in every five beds at The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus, and one in six at the Montfort and Queensway Carleton hospitals. While some are awaiting home care services so they can return home, others are waiting for a spot in another facillity. About 40 per cent of those ALC patients are waiting for a bed in a long-term care home.   

"With mass immunization now well advanced in long-term care settings, if there are certain rooms, certain spaces within homes that should be used for residents, then we're saying let's be open to doing that properly," Dale said.

Anthony Dale is president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, which represents 141 hospitals in the province. (CBC)

Ministry calling for 1,500 beds

Earlier this week, Ontario's Ministry of Long-Term Care issued a "call to action for long-term 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."

The ministry has set a goal of 1,500 placements at 626 LTC homes across the province. 

Ottawa hospitals will have ‘extreme difficulty’ keeping up if COVID-19 cases keep rising, OPH says

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Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa’s associate medical officer of health, says COVID-19 hospitalizations are doubling approximately every 12 days, leaving the health-care system at risk of being overwhelmed.

Dean Lett, the City of Ottawa's director of long-term care, said its four LTC homes are "committed to working in partnership with Ontario Health and the local hospitals to alleviate the pressures the health care system is currently experiencing with alternate level of care patients waiting for placement." 

Lett did not say how many rooms might be made available at the four municipally run facilities. 

Hospitals under pressure

Hospitals in Ontario are under mounting pressure from the growing number of COVID-19 patients, with hospitalizations in Ottawa doubling every 10 to 12 days, according to public health officials. Hospitals have been forced to cancel elective surgeries and place some patients in areas that weren't designed for patient care.

"We're talking about lives," said Julie Budd, who manages discharge planning at the Montfort Hospital. "That's how extremely important it is to find solutions and to work as a region and to work with our patients and families to find opportunities and solutions for those patients that are waiting for an alternate level of care."

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Julie Budd, manager of discharge planning at the Montfort Hospital, says it’s important for patients who don’t need acute care to be transferred out of the hospital if they can receive care elsewhere, especially now that COVID-19 cases are rising again.

Ironically, the pandemic is also complicating the transfer of ALC patients to LTC homes, which have quarantine rules for new patients and in many cases have been forced to reduce the number of existing residents per room. Many homes are currently dealing with outbreaks and staff shortages.

Meanwhile, some hospitals are creating their own spaces for ALC patients, including the Queensway Carleton's 56-bed satellite unit at a hotel in Kanata. Other hospitals have come up with similar arrangements to ease the pressure.

"We are in the process of identifying and implementing more solutions to increase hospital capacity, and help patients get the most appropriate care for their unique health situation," The Ottawa Hospital's Michaela Schreiter told CBC. 

Hospitals across the province are in scrambling to find space as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic builds. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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