Hamilton Health Sciences has begun setting up a mobile health unit (MHU) to create more bed space as the city’s ICU fills amid ongoing COVID-19 infections.
The Hamilton-based MHU is expected to house 80 beds and serve as a provincial resource to accommodate pressures on hospitals across southern Ontario.
“We expect the unit will be ready for patients next month,” said HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac in an update on Tuesday.
“It’s being set up in the footprints of the parking lot on Wellington Street, and the space was selected because of its proximity to HHS facilities, particularly the Hamilton General Hospital.”
The unit will be the second of its kind after Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre began pitching its facility in a North York parking lot last February.
Like Sunnybrook’s temporary field hospital, the HHS facility is expected to be self-contained and equipped with its own medical support system, generators and washrooms.
The move follows public health pandemic modelling that suggested Hamilton may need three months of lockdown measures before being able to step into a less restrictive level of the province’s reopening framework.
The forecast painted a picture of how hospitalizations have not declined since the end of the second wave in late 2020 and have the potential to spike in May, affecting primarily people ages 30 to 69.
The transfer of patients from other regions is adding to the pressure of ICUs in the city, averaging 90 per cent or more in occupancy.
MacIsaac said Joseph Brant, Hamilton General, the Juravinski, St. Joe’s and Niagara Health all received critical care patients over the weekend from Toronto, where 40 per cent of all new admissions in that city are COVID-19-related.
“There’s no doubt our system is becoming very pressured and it is daunting to consider the coming weeks as was depicted in the modelling,” MacIsaac said.
Both HHS and St. Joe’s hospitals are moving forward with ICU surge plans involving relocating patients to other units in addition to reassigning staff.
St. Joe’s president Melissa Farrell said the agency’s hospitals have now stepped into their pandemic surge plans amid significant growth in ICU capacity.
“We’re full with 31 beds, and we’ve actually increased that capacity over the last six months,” said Farrell.
“Sixteen out of those 31 individuals in ICU have COVID-related illness.”
Dr. Mark Soth, chief of critical care at St. Joe’s, said the hospital has been preparing for the influx of potential patients since early March.
Soth said the difficulty in treating ICU patients is the manpower needed to care for a severely ill COVID-19 patient.
“Usually we take two nurses and (respiratory therapists) to help look after a patient in the ICU,” Soth said.
“It takes five to six people to safely turn one of these (COVID) patients without dislodging their breathing tube and (normally,) we often have few patients that sick in the ICU.”
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