Toronto

Brampton, Etobicoke hospitals grapple with surge of ICU patients, surgery backlog

As vaccines begin to be distributed to overwhelmed hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area, William Osler Health System, which was operating at full capacity, has been transporting patients in intensive care units to other hospitals to manage the demand.

William Osler Health System transferring patients to other hospitals as demand for ICU, staff grows

A joint statement released on Sunday by hospitals in Toronto and neighbouring regions of Durham, Halton, Peel and York called for stronger restrictions as hospitals see an increasing number of ICU patients and staff falling ill and becoming unable to work. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As vaccines begin to be distributed to overwhelmed hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area, William Osler Health System (WOHS), which was operating at full capacity, has been transporting patients in intensive care units to other hospitals to manage the demand.

WOHS administered Brampton's first COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday after opening a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Brampton Civic Hospital.

The hospital network consists of Brampton Civic Hospital, Etobicoke General Hospital and the Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness.

As of Tuesday, hospitals have 27 COVID-19 patients in ICUs in Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital, according to WOHS.

"We have been in the eye of the storm for wave two for quite a few weeks," said Kiki Ferrari, chief operations officer, WOHS.

Ferrari said WOHS now has capacity but credits it solely to its ability to transfer patients to partnering hospitals in the GTA over the past three weeks.

William Osler Health System (WOHS) administered Brampton’s first COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday after opening its COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Brampton Civic Hospital. (Angelina King/CBC)

"We've transferred about a dozen critical care patients across the system, we've also reduced our non-urgent elective surgeries so we have staff available in our ICUs in our organization to deal with our COVID-19 positive patients," Ferrari said.

With 60 per cent of surgeries delayed, Ferrari said the first priority for the health system is to redeploy staff and free them up as there wasn't a sufficient number of staff to care for ICU patients at the hospital before it began transferring patients.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said in a tweet on Monday that the hospital system was at full capacity but thanked the three hospitals which took in patients from Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General hospitals. 

While it continues to deal with the demand in ICUs, the hospital has also begun rolling out COVID-19 vaccines.

Vilma Whyte, a personal support worker with Tullamore Care Community, was the city's first recipient of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine under Phase One of the Ontario government's three-phased immunization program.

Brown said vaccine rollout day was a long-awaited day for residents and front-line workers of the city.

"It's a great relief today that V day has arrived in Brampton, we've been hit really hard by this pandemic. We have so many essential workers on the front line," Brown said.

"This was desperately needed."

As the vaccine continues to roll out to front-line workers in Peel Region with 50 vaccinated Tuesday and 90 scheduled for Wednesday, the goal is to hit 300 vaccinations a day in the coming weeks, Ferrari said.

Vilma Whyte, a personal support worker with Tullamore Care Community, was the city’s first recipient of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine under Phase One of the Ontario government’s three-phased immunization program. (CBC News)

On Tuesday, Peel Region logged an additional 504 COVID-19 cases. 

The region emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot early on in the pandemic, largely due to many residents being essential workers, making it more likely to come into contact with the novel coronavirus.

According to recent projections, after the holidays, Ontario could see upwards of 300 people taking up beds in ICUs under any scenario. 

There are now 285 people with COVID-19 being treated in intensive care units, according to Critical Care Services Ontario. The previous high of 284 came in April, during the first wave of the pandemic.

Kiki Ferrari, William Osler Health System's chief operations officer, says hospitals in their network now have capacity but credits it solely to their ability to transfer patients to other hospitals and cancel non-urgent surgeries. (CBC News)

Ferrari said staffing remains her biggest concern, but with the transferal of ICU patients, she says this will help alleviate a lot of the stress.

"We're working as a system. That has been extraordinary. Our partners are reaching out for help and we're helping each other taking on capacity and that is why we have capacity today."

She said Brampton Civic has a surge plan in anticipation for a spike to occur in the next week or so, but says it will be able to manage it.

Peel Region's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh says people must remain vigilant and avoid gatherings this holiday season.

"We really, really, really strongly recommend that everyone celebrates the holidays with their immediate household only," Loh said on Tuesday.

"With our levels of community transmission and where they are right now, every interaction presents a risk of transmission of COVID-19," he said.

The region's top doctor said while there is hope with the vaccine distribution, there is still lots of work to do before the fight is over.

"As the days get longer and brighter especially with the vaccine coming, we know that our fight against this virus is going to get just that much brighter," Loh said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Jabakhanji

Reporter/Editor

Sara Jabakhanji is a reporter with CBC News and graduate of Ryerson's School of Journalism. Sara has chased stories for the CBC across the province of Ontario in Toronto, Ottawa and is currently working with the CBC London bureau. She was born in Damascus, Syria and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was eight years old. Sara can speak fluent Arabic and is working on improving her French. She can be reached at: sara.jabakhanji@cbc.ca

With files from Ali Chiasson

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