The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a number of changes and additional pressures at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH).
Last week, the hospital increased the number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds to 11 from eight. Four more can be added if necessary.
“We are keeping our capacity as flexible as possible,” said OSMH president and CEO Carmine Stumpo, noting the other four beds could be used in the ICU or in the general ward for COVID-19 patients.
The move comes as OSMH accepts patient transfers from other parts of the province, including the Greater Toronto Area. Last week, there were nine transfers to the local hospital. OSMH was notified Wednesday of a patient transfer and was told Friday another one was coming.
While there were more transfers last week, the transfers this week are of “higher complexity,” Stumpo said, noting they involve patients who are ventilated.
While some have expressed concern about the patients being transferred to Orillia, it is “an absolute necessity,” he said.
“We are responding as a Team Ontario approach. We all have to do our part,” he said.
The transfer process is safe, he added.
“We know how to receive them and they go immediately into isolation,” he said.
OSMH has had to postpone a variety of surgeries. Some call them non-essential, but Stumpo prefers a different term.
“They’re essential, but they’re scheduled. They can be deferred, within reason, safely,” he said, but added cancer surgeries and other urgent procedures are still happening.
The numbers vary, but OSMH has been postponing, on average, 80 procedures a week.
“We know it’s hard. The stress of having to reschedule a procedure is not something we wish on anyone,” Stumpo said.
A new COVID-19 variant, B.1.617, first detected in India, has also been confirmed in the region, though it’s unclear if anyone in Orillia has it.
Stumpo noted more than 90 per cent of current cases in Ontario are variants of concern, most being the U.K. variant B.1.1.7.
With B.1.1.7, “it is much more easily transmitted and it is much more likely to land you in hospital and the ICU,” Stumpo said.
“It’s a twofold risk.”
He also noted the average age of patients with COVID-19 is getting younger.
“For these reasons, precautions need to be even more strongly adhered to. As hard as they are, we can’t drop our guard. Now is the time to double down on the precautions,” he said.
The more people follow the precautions and get vaccinated, the sooner restrictions can be eased, eventually leading to outdoor gatherings, he said, but “right now, the rules are the rules and we need to follow them.”
He encourages everyone, when eligible, to get vaccinated and “be part of that movement to end the pandemic.”
As the situation changes, OSMH staff continue to adapt, but it hasn’t been easy, Stumpo said.
“I have a world of respect for the team,” he said. “They are working hard. They are tired. Staff are leaning on each other, but it’s tough for everyone.”