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Hospital bracing for 'severe strain' in coming weeks: OSMH president

Following latest modelling data, official urges public to take stricter precautions; 'Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked'

A grim forecast of the COVID-19 situation in the province should be the motivation for people everywhere, including in Orillia, to “buckle down.”

That’s the message from Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) president and CEO Carmine Stumpo.

The province released new modelling data Tuesday, predicting a dramatic increase in cases expected next month.

“It’s not difficult to predict that we’re going to be in severe strain as a system,” Stumpo said. “We need to take significant action now — preferably, a while ago — to bend that curve as much as we can.”

OSMH is “running at near-full capacity” now, though it is currently able to complete certain scheduled surgeries. However, it has scaled back some procedures in anticipation of a continued spike in COVID-19 cases.

While it is “human nature to want to believe that it’s not as bad as it is,” the mindset at the hospital is to “always assume it’s worse than you think it is,” Stumpo said.

“You stand a chance to get ahead of things. The wait-and-see approach to this virus doesn’t work,” he said.

During the first wave of the pandemic, occupancy was decreased at Ontario hospitals, with COVID-19 being the main focus. Now, “everywhere in the hospital is busy, so it is a more delicate balance,” Stumpo said.

There are typically eight intensive care unit (ICU) beds at OSMH. Seven are currently occupied. Stumpo said the hospital can, if necessary, quickly increase the number of ICU beds to 10.

OSMH is also caring for three patients from the Greater Toronto Area, transferred here from hospitals that are dealing with “a very dramatic surge” in cases, he said.

Stumpo implores residents to abide by the province’s stay-at-home orders, issued Tuesday, to prevent further strain on the system.

“As difficult as they are, they’re necessary measures. Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked,” he said. “We all need to react aggressively to get through the coming weeks and months. Ideally, we would’ve seen these measures in place earlier.”

A variant of the virus that is much more transmissible than the initial strain has made its way to Ontario and “we need to appreciate” that it could come to our area, Stumpo said.

“This new variant has to be the motivation to buckle down over the next few weeks and months,” he said.

“The end of the pandemic lies with the vaccination process,” he added, but said until vaccines have been widely administered, everyone needs to take all possible measures to prevent spread. “This is a really critical time.”

About 60 per cent of OSMH staff — mostly front-line workers — have received the first dose of the vaccine.