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Local doctors sound ICU alarm bell at Ontario hospitals

One-hundred-and-thirty-five doctors urge the province to reconsider its approach to COVID-19, saying overwhelmed physicians may soon have to start making life-or-death decisions based on ICU capacities.
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A look into one of Sault Area Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) rooms. (Darren Taylor/SooToday)

THUNDER BAY – A group of intensive care unit doctors from across the province, including several at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, are pleading with the province for tighter restrictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

If not, they could be faced with the possibility of having to triage the critically ill and make life-or-death decisions with patients’ lives, determining who gets palliative care and who dies.

The letter signed by 135 physicians, says ICU capacity should not be the benchmark for the tolerance of COVID-19 spread, adding immediate measures are needed to regain control of the pandemic and save lives.

The doctors, who include Thunder Bay Regional’s Dr. Bernadett Kovacs, Dr. Philip George, Dr. Bryce Brown and Dr. Will Anderson, said variants of concern are spreading exponentially around Ontario, which makes it tougher to control spread. They add each person infected with a variant has a higher chance of hospitalization, ICU admission and death.

“We are seeing younger patients on ventilators – many are parents of school-aged children. We are seeing entire families end up in our ICUs. We are caring for people who have contracted COVID-19 at work, or who have followed all the rules and only gone out for groceries,” the letter reads.

“The impact of this virus has been disproportionate, infecting those with the highest exposure risk, commonly from lower income and racialized communities. The current measures and framework are not working to contain the spread of this virus.”

The doctors went on to say about four in 10 patients who are admitted to Ontario ICUs with COVID-19 will die, while half the patients requiring mechanical ventilation as a result of COVID will also die.

Long-term impacts on physical or cognitive function are also significant for those patients discharged from ICUs

“The growth of (variants of concern) in Ontario is exponential. Trying to adjust our public health response to ICU capacity will not break the chains of transmission. Countries attempting this approach faced massive numbers of deaths and had pushed hospital capacity beyond its limits. Many of those jurisdictions have more expansive hospital and ICU capacity than Ontario does,” the letter reads.

New funding to deal with COVID-19 has helped, but staffing has not significantly increased and other services, including surgeries and diagnostic imaging, have been delayed.

The physicians state at the current rate, they won’t have enough staff to manage demand for COVID and non-COVID ICU care.  They add the surgical backlog will take years to overcome and that early-stage cancers are going to be missed.

“As ICU doctors, we are the last line of defence and we are ringing the alarm bell. Please hear us. We implore you to act now.”



Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 19 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Wants his Expos back. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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