Extra ventilators arrive in Ontario hospital ICUs to aid COVID-19 patients

Ontario hospital intensive care units now have nearly 2,000 beds equipped with ventilators to help care for COVID-19 patients, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from March, according to data obtained by CBC News. 

Figures obtained by CBC News show 650 additional intensive care beds now equipped with ventilators

Why are ventilators important for treating COVID-19?

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Hospitals are scrambling to secure more ventilators amid the coronavirus outbreak. A respiratory therapist explains how they work. 2:59

Ontario hospital intensive care units now have nearly 2,000 beds equipped with ventilators to help care for COVID-19 patients, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from March, according to data obtained by CBC News. 

The latest Critical Care Services Ontario daily report on the pandemic shows a province-wide capacity of 1,971 ICU beds equipped with ventilators. That's up from the report's previous tallies that showed 1,219 beds with ventilators last month.  

Ventilators are essential to the survival of people with the worst cases of COVID-19, as the illness can result in severe pneumonia making it difficult for patients to breathe on their own. 

Figures published by Ontario's Ministry of Health on Monday morning show 589 people hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The ministry says 216 of those are in ICUs, including 160 on ventilators. 

Modelling released by the province on Friday suggests Ontario will need to add an extra 900 intensive care beds to cope with a projected steep rise in COVID-19 patients over the next two weeks. The peak is forecast to hit hospitals between April 16 and 20, with as many as 1,200 cases of COVID-19 in the ICUs.

This graph is Ontario's forecast of demand for additional intensive care beds at the province's hospitals over the coming weeks, based on the current rate of spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

The province is allowing hospitals to take their own steps to expand intensive care bed capacity, though it is not yet clear how they will find the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists necessary to care for the patients.

"We are definitely going to be stretching our capacity," said Anand Doobay, chief of medicine at Markham-Stouffville Hospital, in an interview with CBC Toronto.

"We're staffed to manage a (critical care) unit of 15 patients so the challenge is looking at how do we staff a unit that suddenly has 45 or 50 patients."

Current published figures show 19 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are hospitalized at Markham-Stouffville.

Doobay said there is "no easy answer" to the staffing challenges. "People are going to be working much harder than they normally do, and we're going to be working in a different way than we normally do," he said. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday the province is recruiting retired nurses, medical students and other volunteers to help staff overstretched hospital departments. 

"The province is hard at work to add even more capacity in anticipation of increased hospitalizations that require admission to ICU," said Elliott's director of communications Travis Kann in an email to CBC News on Monday confirming that 652 additional ventilators are now in place.

"This work will continue over the coming days and weeks, as Ontario receives more of the ventilators ordered and prepares for the expected peak in demand," Kann said.  

Some of Ontario's 34 public health units are providing local breakdowns of the number of patients in intensive care. Their most recent numbers include: . 

  • Toronto Public Health  60
  • York Region Public Health 19  
  • Ottawa Public Health 14 

With files from Lisa Xing


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