By Mike Baker
Following another weekend of almost 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 across Ontario and a further 102 deaths, health officials are preparing for the worst with many hospitals, particularly in the GTA, dangerously close to being overrun by this second wave of the pandemic.
While we aren’t considered to be in a critical stage here in Haliburton County, staff from Haliburton Highlands Health Services [HHHS] have confirmed the local hospital is on stand-by and may be directed to accept patients from outside the community “at any time.”
Carolyn Plummer, president and CEO of HHHS, informed the Times over the weekend that staff at the local hospital are prepared to step up if they are needed.
“The high number of cases in Toronto and surrounding areas has led to an increase in hospital admissions, including ICU admissions, in the GTA, which is putting pressure on the overall health system,” Plummer said. “As a result, all hospitals in the province, including HHHS, have been directed to accept transfers from other hospitals if asked, and if we have open beds available, in order to help address these system capacity concerns.”
Plummer adds that the direction received from the ministry of health suggests these transfers could include both non-critical medical patients, and also non-critical COVID-positive patients.
She confirmed that, as of Friday evening [Jan. 22], HHHS has not received any transfers from other hospitals as a result of this new directive.
The HHHS site in Haliburton currently houses 14 patient beds in their acute care and emergency departments. The facility also includes two beds in its palliative care centre. Plummer confirmed the hospital has not been able to repurpose spaces in its facilities, including its site in Minden, to create additional capacity due to staffing shortages.
“Similar to other hospitals, we continue to be challenged to have sufficient staffing to cover all of those beds, so not all of them are open at this time,” Plummer said. “The number of open beds we have does fluctuate as our staffing situation changes. We are continuing to recruit new staff to help address these shortages.”
As of Monday morning [Jan. 25], there are 23,620 unresolved cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, with 1,398 individuals hospitalized and 397 individuals in ICU. In total, 5,846 individuals from across the province have died since the onset of the pandemic last March.
Here in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, there are 99 unresolved cases – five of those in Haliburton County, 68 in the Kawartha Lakes and 26 in Northumberland County. There are two further probable cases within the region, and 139 high-risk contacts. There are 31 individuals hospitalized across the health unit, although which hospitals they are spread across has not, and will not be disclosed.
Plummer confirmed that, should it be necessary, HHHS could support an individual who requires hospitalization due to COVID-19.
“This depends on the severity of symptoms and the specific healthcare needs of the patient,” Plummer stated, after being asked if a Haliburton-based COVID-positive patient would be transferred to another facility. “We are prepared for and can accommodate patients who are COVID-positive, however should they require more intensive care, we would transfer them to a hospital with a critical care unit.”
With the seven-day average of new daily cases falling to less than 3,000, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams indicated the current lockdown, which will remain in place until Feb. 19, has helped to stop the spread of this second wave of the coronavirus. Still, he said the province must cut its daily COVID-19 case counts to below 1,000 before lockdown measures can be lifted.
He called the goal “achievable”, even though it’s been almost three months since the province reported a three digit daily increase, the last coming in late October.