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Ted Hsu for MPP

Three COVID-19 patients to be transferred out of KHSC to alleviate overburdened capacity

Kingston Health Sciences Center (KHSC) is in the process of transferring three COVID patients from its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to other nearby hospitals with the capacity to care for them.

“We are very, very busy. We’re over our capacity. That’s really the bottom line,” explains KHSC President and CEO Dr. David Pichora, “we’re just full everywhere and in every way.”

A COVID-19 patient is transferred to KHSC from an over-capacity hospital in a harder hit region last spring. In the fourth wave circumstances have reversed. Photo by Logan Cadue.

With ICU COVID-19 patient numbers fluctuating “between 18 and the low 20s on top of being very, very busy,” said Pichora, the team at KHSC knew it was time to make a change.

The high COVID-19 activity in the region has begun to have an impact on the hospital, he said, and “unlike a lot of other hospitals in the province, we have a number of COVID patients at the moment. In fact, when I looked at yesterday’s data we had the most [COVID patients of any hospital] in the province.”

Pichora contacted Ontario Health yesterday, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, to let them know that he was “worried about how much more might be coming our way.”

The province then issued an order to transfer three from the KHSC ICU to either Brockville or Ottawa. “My understanding is that we’ve transferred one already and we’re trying to identify two more who are suitable and consenting for transfer,” said Pichora.

Pichora pointed out that with the hospital at capacity to care for so many critically ill patients, their grave concern was for “what might happen tomorrow.”

“We really don’t have a lot of room for multicar trauma on the 401, which is why we started looking at moving people out.”

The patients will be vetted for transfer with extreme caution. “We have a lot to choose from,” he said soberingly. “We will be looking for ventilated critically ill patients who are stable enough to be transferred. It’s a matter of who’s the right patient right now, who’s consenting to go.”

With COVID-19 things can change very quickly and, he said, “as we saw in the spring, sometimes it’s difficult to identify the best patient today for a transfer.”

KHSC went back to a “life and limb” critical care bypass model yesterday morning due to being so full, he said. “Our ER (Emergency Room) is seeing very high volumes and we just don’t have room.”

However, he explained, that doesn’t mean KHSC is not open to any new patients. “We’re still accepting patients but being more restricted about who we can take. We’re really trying to limit it to the tertiary regional cases that should [normally] be coming our way.” Others are being redirected if at all possible.

Pichora says he is proud of his staff, who are now going on two years of working through the pandemic. “Our staff have been terrific in terms of stepping up, being resilient, being nimble and creative. We’re running way over capacity to when we thought we were busy, pre-COVID.”

COVID-19 is just one more challenge the hospital staff have met, and cutting down on a few ICU patients will hopefully alleviate some pressure. “We’re trying to catch up on the surgical backlog,” he said. “We don’t want to see our cardiac and cancer and neuro, and total joint cases being cancelled; we’re trying to keep them open too.”

However, there have been staffing challenges. “We’ve had people who’ve retired, moved on. We’re running a lot more beds, we’re running assessment centers and vaccination clinics. And we have a lot more jobs. We’ve hired a lot of people, but we’re still hiring.” 

Besides applying for jobs, the public needs to work on alleviating the pressure by increasing immunity, he said. “If you’re not vaccinated, please get vaccinated.”

“Fortunately, or not,” observed Pichora, “it would appear that the hospitals in regions that were very heavily hit during wave three are doing a little better now. Hospitals like us that were relatively spared in the previous waves are now seeing more cases.”

Asked why that might be, he explained, “immunity rates in the community is the answer I get from epidemiology. Our vaccination rate is high here, comparable to other areas in the province. I think the region’s done well, but not everybody’s vaccinated yet.”

Earlier on in the pandemic, he explained, “other areas in the province acquired immunity rates of around 70%. When you add that on top of the vaccination rate, it actually gives a lot more protection right now.” 

“Not that I would recommend that’s a good way to get [better immunity],” he added observing the irony of what he had just said. Instead, he encourages the public to get the vaccine in order to mitigate the tension placed on the already over-stressed KHSC and the rest of the healthcare system.

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