'No one knows' if HSN preparations are enough, retired doctor says

A retired Sudbury doctor says it's hard to prepare for the unknown.

Health Sciences North expanding critical care beds in expectation of surge, but doc wonders if its enough

Health Sciences North is expanding it's critical care unit in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks. (Erik White/CBC)

A retired Sudbury doctor says it's hard to prepare for the unknown.

Dr. Peter Zalan, who worked in the Intensive Care Unit, was at a briefing after Health Sciences North released details to the public about its surge plan Wednesday.

"The biggest potential problem that was outlined to us is not so much rooms and equipment–  it's more staff," Zalan said. "The amount of staff we have to run an intensive care unit is designed for the 28 beds we presently have."

But Zalan said the people in charge are making plans to deal with it. 

" I think the plan is... asking their physicians to come in from the community, and I think we have had family physicians who have volunteered," Zalan said. "[Also] asking retired folks to come back."

Another tactic is re-deploying people from other areas of the hospital.

 Zalan thinks the hospital may create dedicated teams.

"For example, you have one intensive care physician who will be supervising some anaesthetists who have some skills but not the full skills of intensive care," he said.

"Similarly one ICU nurse [would be] the head of a team of nurses who are not as fully trained." 

Retired Sudbury doctor Peter Zalan says HSN's biggest challenge during the pandemic is having enough staff and keeping them healthy. (Erik White/CBC )

Zalan said the hospital still runs the risk of having workers get infected with the virus.

"Then we'll really be in trouble," he said. "That's why we actually have to really protect our staff."

"The medical staff, the physicians and nurses and other staff are not happy with the amount of protective gear that we have. At the moment we don't have enough now."

"It will come but the whole planet is competing for the same equipment," he said.

When asked if the hospital's preparations to deal with an expected surge are enough, Zalan said "no one knows."

"[Preparations] are actually based on calculations of our population size versus populations down south," he said. "And the fact that of all the people who are getting infected with COVID about 5 percent are supposed to end up in an intensive care unit."

"So I think they're reasonable calculations. But since COVID is a brand new infection we really do not know."

 But HSN president Dominic Giroux says critical care beds have expanded from 28 to just over a hundred and cancelled elective surgeries have freed up more space.

Some patients needing rehabilitation, long-term care and home care will be moved to the Clarion Hotel.

Besides those preparations, Giroux said the hospital is doing the best they can with provincial data.

"I wish we had a crystal ball to be able to forecast the number of admitted patients both in critical care and non-critical care," Giroux said. "We don't have that luxury."

"That's why we've been taking the proactive steps over the last few weeks, being laser-focused and developing an expansion plan for critical care."

Giroux added that the hospital has not waited to be at full capacity in their critical care area before executing their expansion plans. 



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