Toronto

Hospital announces plans for COVID-19 screening centre in nearby medical building

Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital is planning to open a COVID-19 screening and assessment centre in an East York medical building across the street from the hospital in mid-March.

Michael Garron Hospital says centre would have separate entrance to keep community safe

Michael Garron Hospital is planning to open a COVID-19 screening and assessment centre in this East York medical building at 840 Coxwell Ave. ( Angelina King/CBC)

Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital is planning to open a COVID-19 screening and assessment centre in an East York medical building across the street from the hospital in mid-March.

The screening centre for people with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 would be located at 840 Coxwell Ave., the Coxwell site of the South East Toronto Family Health Team. The building, south of Mortimer Avenue, includes a seniors active living centre run by Woodgreen Community Services.

Mark Fam, the hospital's vice-president of programs, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the screening and assessment centre would have a separate entrance and separate space to protect the health of community members who use the building for other services. 

"As we plan ahead, we're looking to create additional capacity and space for folks who need to get screened or worried about getting additional testing, to make sure we still maintain the right capacity in our emergency department for other patients who are sick," Fam said.

"Patients who do need to go and get screened can still be separate from the rest of the community who might be going and accessing other services in the building."

Fam said the hospital considers the location to be suitable because it is within walking distance of its emergency department. People could get tested for COVID-19 rapidly without going to the hospital itself, he said. The move would reduce the risk that patients with COVID-19 spread the coronavirus to uninfected people in the emergency room.

The hospital is working with the Ontario health ministry on its plans, he added.

Mark Fam, Vice President of Clinical Programs, Michael Garron Hospital, explains the plans to handle COVID-19 assessments on a large-scale -- including the possibility of drive-through screening. 6:29

"We're looking to create afternoon services and evening, enable folks to come in, get an assessment by a physician and a nurse, get screened and testing if they need to, and if they need additional emergency services, be able to easily come across the street to the hospital. If not, they would be able to go home and get the results virtually," Fam said.

Fam added that "drive-thru" testing is also an option being considered by the hospital. That means a person would get a quick assessment and quick swab while still in a vehicle, and that swab would then be tested in a laboratory.

Hospital to meet with tenants on Monday

On Sunday, spokesperson for Michael Garron Hospital Shelley Darling told CBC News that a meeting will be held with tenants of the building on Monday to discuss plans and address any concerns they have. 

Darling also said the same site served as an assessment centre during the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks.

Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Ontario's health ministry, said Michael Garron Hospital is one of a number of hospitals that have been asked by the ministry to set up screening and assessment centres.

"Ontario is actively working with specific hospitals and has requested that they submit applications to establish dedicated assessment centres, which do not currently exist in the province," Chazan said in an email to CBC Toronto on the weekend.

"This is being done to help mitigate increased pressures on hospitals and emergency departments and to ensure Ontario's continued ability to effectively test and respond to potential cases of COVID-19," she added. "We expect plans for the establishment of assessment centres to be in place this coming week."

The ministry did not say how many screening and assessment centres would be created.

Dr. David Williams, centre, Chief Medical Officer of Health, is joined by Andy Smith, president and CEO of Sunnybrook Health Sciences, and left to right, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health for Toronto, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Dr. Peter Donnelly, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, as they announce Canada's first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus on Jan. 25. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Toronto Public Health said separate screening and assessment centres are needed to take pressure off emergency departments in the city. He said TPH is involved in the planning of the centres.

"It is important to ensure that there is a good understanding of the circulation of the virus in our community through testing of symptomatic individuals," Dr. Michael Finkelstein, acting director of communicable disease control and associate medical officer of health, said in an email on the weekend.

"Establishing a place for people to be assessed and be tested, when they do not need care in an emergency department, will reduce the demand on emergency departments. It will also continue to allow individuals who are symptomatic to be tested."

Finkelstein said TPH will help advertise the centres to the public and will do follow-up work.

"Once these assessment centres are approved and available, TPH will work to ensure that the public is aware of their location and hours of operations. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 at an assessment centre will be reported to TPH and we will follow up with them and their contacts."

As of Sunday, Ontario had 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Four of the 31 have recovered. The Ontario health ministry says 36 cases are under investigation.

Some doctors warn that people who might have the coronavirus could put the most vulnerable at risk if they go to their local emergency room. 2:08

About the Author

Muriel Draaisma is a CBC Toronto web reporter. She writes about crime, social justice, politics, civic issues, ravines and now COVID-19. muriel.draaisma@cbc.ca

With files from Metro Morning, Mike Crawley and Angelina King