Jan. 8th 2020. Dr. David Pichora, CEO Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), has confirmed that Kingston hospitals are preparing to receive transfers of out-of-town patients, part of a coordinated provincial effort to manage hospital capacity as COVID-19 case numbers rise.
“We’ve been talking about it with the Ministry since last summer. It’s not new news,” Dr. Pichora said. “When you looked at the modelling that was available to us starting in the summer and into the fall, we knew there was a possibility, though everyone was hoping it wouldn’t happen.”
Ontario recorded a record-high 4,249 COVID-19 cases on Friday, Jan. 9, 2021. Dr. Pichora said when a memo from Ontario Health’s CEO Matthew Anderson arrived Thursday, announcing plans to transfer patients out of areas with a higher burden of illness, he was not surprised.
“It was confirming what I already knew because we’ve been having meetings with Ontario Health on this for a while,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to add capacity, and the Ministry of Health has helped us, funding extra beds, surgical beds, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, to be ready for something like this,” he added.
“We’ve reopened inpatient beds in Hotel Dieu Hospital to try to bolster our capacity and resilience, to keep surgery going in Kingston…We’re reopening St. Marys of the Lake. Unfortunately it’s not open tomorrow, but it will be open in a few weeks,” he noted. “We’re doing a number of things like that to try to maximize our readiness. So we’ll see what comes.”
Dr. Pichora said KHSC has not received specific information on how many patients could be coming, or when. “And I don’t know what the mix would be,” he added. “COVID patients or non-COVID patients, ICU or non-ICU. It would depend on what the needs are at a particular hospital we’re helping out that day.”
He noted that receiving patients from other parts of Ontario is not new for the KHSC team.
“We get transfers from around the southeast, and beyond the southeast, all the time because we provide services that other places don’t. We have tertiary and specialized services that don’t exist at other hospitals around this area,” he said.
“That’s normal, that’s just part of what we do. Patients with spine injuries come from anywhere, even Toronto, flying in by helicopter,” he said. “What may be different here is that we could be getting COVID patients… and that this is part of a provincial response.”
Local hospital capacity
Dr. Pichora described KHSC as “pretty busy and fairly full,” but said it has good capacity compared to previous winters.
“The last few Januaries, we’d have more pressure than we do right now, typically because of flu. But this year we don’t have flu. That does give us some bed capacity and internal medicine that we often wouldn’t have in a January. It gives us a bit of flex for this,” he said.
“We only have a very small number of COVID patients right now. So even though we’re busy, we’re not full of COVID like other hospitals are.”
According to Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, there are currently two patients hospitalized in the region, both in the ICU and one on a ventilator. So far there have been no COVID-19 deaths recorded in the KFL&A region. Provincewide, there are over 1,400 COVID-19 patients in hospital, and 369 in the ICU.
Dr. Pichora said he is hopeful that KHSC will be able to continue to manage local demand while also serving patients from other parts of Ontario, as required.
“The modelling for the province does not look good out into February,” Dr. Pichora noted. “So sure, things may change here. But that’s just speculation.”
Story by Samantha Butler-Hassam, The Kingstonist, for the Local Journalism Initiative