Southwestern Ontario hospitals sound alarm over high volume of COVID-19 patients

Hospitals in our region are sounding the alarm due to the high volume of incoming COVID-19 patients, which is bringing units to their maximum capacities amid staffing shortages.

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance sends patients to London, Sarnia-Lambton begs public to be safe

Nurse Michelena Sockett is careful to properly fit her personal protective equipment as she cares for a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Windsor Regional Hospital in this January 2021 photo. A year later, hospitals across the southwestern Ontario region are dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The number of patients with COVID-19 in Ontario's hospitals has more than doubled in a week, and it's no different in the southwest. 

The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) has transferred three intensive care unit (ICU) patients to a London hospital on Tuesday — with patient consent — as COVID-19 cases push the hospital to its occupancy limit.

In a tweet Wednesday morning, CEO Lori Marshall said 21 of the 22 critical care beds at the hospital were full. She said 12 of those patients have COVID-19, and 11 of them are not vaccinated. Four of them are on ventilators. 

In total, 30 COVID-19 patients were in hospital as of Wednesday morning. 

"We are at a crossroads in our community," Marshall said on a conference call with media on Tuesday. "We are experiencing, certainly, the most significant demand on hospital services that we have seen at CKHA throughout the entire pandemic."

London Health Sciences Centre said they are expecting another "five or fewer" patients from Chatham-Kent today. 

"These transfers take place through the Ontario Critical Care COVID-19 Command Centre, which looks at a number of factors when determining when and if a patient will be transferred," said Sara Wilson, communications consultant with the hospital. 

"As a result, it's difficult for us to give an accurate response as to whether we will be seeing more patients being transferred and when.

"All critical care beds are a provincial resource, and in times of challenge we ensure that our resources are available to those patients in need."

London Health Sciences Centre reported 63 patients with COVID-19, including 10 in critical care Wednesday. 

The number of patients with the virus increased by four from the previous day.

End-of-life talks with 'families in all age categories'

Sarnia-Lambton's Bluewater Health issued a dire warning Tuesday, with hospital leaders sending a letter to the public after the number of COVID-19 patients at the hospital more than quadrupled in the last two weeks. 

The letter said the ICU is seeing younger patients than usual, and most with severe COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

"We are having end-of-life discussions with families in all age categories — not just older ages," it says.

As of Wednesday, there were 31 suspected cases of COVID-19 at the hospital, with 27 of those cases confirmed through PCR testing. An official with the hospital told CBC there could be as many as 40 COVID-19 patients, according to rapid test results, but not all have been confirmed through PCR testing. 

"Initially, we had a few cases, and we thought, 'Well maybe it's just the tail end of Delta. It's winter time, people moving indoors, you know, et cetera,' but then in the middle of December, the numbers just took off, and our ER was calling and saying, 'We don't know what's going on here," said the hospital's chief of staff, Dr. Mike Haddad.

"We're seeing three, four, five, six, seven a day of COVID patients. What's going on?' So that's where we got concerned."

Haddad said six patients have died at Bluewater in the last two weeks.

Both hospitals in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton are affected by staffing issues, as dozens are off with confirmed COVID-19 cases or isolating. 

In Windsor-Essex, 45 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

Bluewater Health hospital in Sarnia, Ont. is grappling with an influx of COVID-19 patients in the ICU amid staffing shortages due to illness. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

As of Tuesday, Windsor Regional Hospital had 38 in-patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 — six of them in the ICU. 

According to the hospital, of the 38 patients, 22 are fully vaccinated, one is partially vaccinated and 15 are unvaccinated. 

On Monday, the hospital said 221 staff members were off of work, with 91 testing positive for COVID19. 

Over 2,000 Ontarians with COVID-19 in hospital

Across Ontario, the number of people in hospital with the illness topped 2,000 on Wednesday, as stricter public health measures took effect.

The Ministry of Health said 2,081 patients with COVID-19 were in hospital, up from 726 at the same time last week.

Similarly, 288 patients were being treated for COVID-19-related illnesses in intensive care units, up from 190 last Wednesday. 

According to Critical Care Services Ontario, 42 more adults with COVID-19 were admitted to ICUs on Tuesday. A total of 124 adults were moved to ICUs in the last three days, the agency said.

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