THUNDER BAY — Facing the potential transfer of patients from southern Ontario to Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, the hospital is increasing capacity in its intensive care unit.
It's at the request of the province's COVID-19 Critical Care Command Table, which monitors all ICU/critical care activity in Ontario associated with the pandemic.
On Wednesday, TBRHSC received its first patient from a southern Ontario intensive care unit as part of the recent initiative to relieve the growing pressure on hospitals in COVID hot zones.
Dr. Peter Voros, TBRHSC's COVID-19 incident management team leader, said one more patient is currently scheduled for transfer to Thunder Bay this week, but it's not clear what might happen beyond that.
"The province has asked us to increase our ICU ventilator capacity up to 30 by the end of the weekend to be able to manage what we have and what's needed coming in," Voros said.
That's four more ICU beds than TBRHSC is working with now, however only 18 are currently occupied by patients.
The hospital has 50 ventilators available on site, so Voros said it could expand its ICU capacity even further if required.
But he added "our understanding is we would never be asked to take more than one [patient transfer] in a day."
Voros said "the province is certainly not just trying to move patients in a haphazard way. It really is a thoughtful process in terms of what are the resources on the ground where they are moving them and whether we can accommodate that patient."
He said TBRHSC wants to work with the province as a system partner to manage the rising case numbers in southern Ontario.
"Now it's really our turn to help out, " Voros said, recalling how hospitals there came to TBRHSC's aid last month when it needed to move patients to other facilities.
"We experienced our wave...We need to recognize that as one province, we work as one system and we all support each other to work together as best we can. We will do so in whatever way we can."
Dr. Voros said he doesn't expect TBRHSC will be affected significantly by the government's move to allow hospitals to transfer patients waiting for a long-term care bed to any nursing home without their consent.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the emergency order is intended to free up hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Voros said that presently there are only a few patients in TBRHSC waiting to go to long-term care.
"We have really good partnerships in Thunder Bay with our long-term care homes, and we're in constant conversations with them about making sure we're moving patients, and that staff are in appropriate places to be able to care for them."
As of Wednesday, 80 per cent of the hospital's beds were occupied.