The Regional Pandemic Response Unit may well be forced into action immediately upon opening Monday just as local COVID-19 cases are surging.
The 70-bed, 8,000-square-foot, fully equipped field hospital erected in nine weeks in the parking lot of Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre is an expansive four-season, tented structure intended as an overflow for hospitals throughout the region as the pandemic persists and puts pressure on the medical sector.
And as Simcoe-Muskoka sees an upward trajectory of COVID-19 cases with new clusters developing and RVH at its highest hospitalized infection case count of 12 on Friday (up from nine two days earlier), the timing may well be perfect.
“RVH is very well-equipped and well trained for this pandemic,” RVH president and CEO Janice Skot said during a grand opening with a small screened, masked and hand-sanitized gathering Friday morning.
“We have the staff and supplies, the equipment and the expertise and the bed capacity needed to battle the pandemic," Skot said.
She applauded the provincial government’s recent $12-million infusion, that pays for the new unit and an additional 29 beds in the main facility. Another $6 million has recently been allotted for its operations.
“We’re ready, we’re prepared,” said Skot.
Local COVID-19 infections have seen jumps in recent weeks, along with an increase in deaths. RVH staff have treated 46 COVID-19 patients and dealt with eight related deaths.
“It’s easy to have a jump if you have clusters,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit Medical Officer of Health, pointing to a new cluster of older people.
“That is the great risk,” he said.
The temporary unit will operate indefinitely and is intended to serve not just patients going to RVH, but also those seeking medical attention at Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston, Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, the Georgian Bay General Hospital, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital and Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare.
“The PRU is not a COVID unit,” stressed RVH Chief of Medicine Dr. Derek Benjamin, who has been involved in its development since the early planning days in the spring. “The patients who will be cared for here are medically stable with an estimated stay of three to five days. This will create room in the main hospital for COVID-19 patients.
“Care will be provided by a full team…. That team will provide the same high quality care that patients would receive in a traditional inpatient unit.”
Each patient bay in the temporary unit is equipped with oxygen, dimmable light, USB ports and a patient call system.
Three interprofessional stations are set up in the middle of the long structure and another attached structure contains the washroom and showers.
RVH has hired an additional 100 permanent staff for the field hospital, but they are expected to stay on after it closes.
Monday’s gradual opening will see the initial availability of 23 beds.
Gail Hunt, president and CEO of Georgian Bay General Hospital, said some area hospitals have had occupancy rates of up to 95 per cent. And the field hospital arrives just in time as the health sector braces for a perfect storm of both COVID-19 and influenza cases.
“This will be an important release valve for all of us,” she said. “We’re working together to ensure your hospitals are providing the very best in hospital care.”