A critical care bed alert has been issued for three intensive care units at Toronto General Hospital, making it the latest hospital strained under a wider staffing shortage.
Alerts have been called for the cardio-vascular, cardiac and medical-surgical intensive-care units, which are at their total bed capacity and/or have limited human resources to safely keep all physical critical-care beds open.
“Due to multiple factors including issues driven by the ongoing pandemic, our ongoing surgical services and needs for hospitalized medical patients, a staffing shortage and the vacations that people need, we are at capacity in the Toronto General ICUs,” University Health Network spokesperson Gillian Howard said in an email.
There are almost 60 beds across the three ICUs (30 for medical-surgical, 15 for cardio-vascular and 12 for cardiac), which support the high volume of cardiac, cardio-vascular, cancer, and transplant surgeries that happen at the hospital.
While under the alert “we actively triage patients that require specialized ICU care” and work with a provincial service that all hospitals report data on their critical care beds to, called CritiCall , Howard said.
These alerts happen “from time to time,” she added. During the height of the pandemic, when patients were being moved from one ICU to another, “most of those hospitals having patients moved were under critical care alerts and those receiving would have had capacity.”
“CritiCall will, as usual — in consultation with the ambulance services — ensure that a patient in an emergency situation will be transported to a hospital that has ICU capacity.”
The alert comes as hospitals are under pressure to cope with staffing shortages, especially among nurses, and other long-standing issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Last week, Lakeridge Health closed its ICU in Bowmanville, and relocated critical-care services to its Ajax, Pickering and Oshawa hospitals, due to staffing issues.
Other hospitals, in the province, including Kingston General and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, have closed beds. Perth’s emergency department closed in July after a COVID outbreak among staff; it has since reopened.
Premier Doug Ford was asked about the pressures the health-care system is facing at a news conference in Stratford, Ont., on Tuesday. He stressed that the staffing shortage is a national and international problem, and listed measures his government has taken, including working with the College of Nurses to get internationally trained nurses on board faster, offering a $5,000 bonus to nurses who worked through the pandemic, and building new hospitals.
“We are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this,” he said.
Cathryn Hoy, a registered nurse and president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, called on the premier to immediately repeal Bill 124, which capped nurses’ pay, to send a message to them that the province is listening. Hoy, who has compared the health-care system to the sinking Titanic, added hospital beds without staff are “worthless.”
“You can’t just throw a quick fix,” she said.
It’s hard to keep track of how many hospital and emergency departments in the province are facing closures, she added.
Hospitals need to be more transparent with the public, she said, because “people in the community don’t know how bad the problem is.”
Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson told the Star recently that the system is under “tremendous strain,” with record ER wait times, long surgical wait lists and staff burned out from successive pandemic waves leaving for other jobs.
As well, the number of hospital staff off work due to COVID, has nearly doubled since May, to about 4,800 during the week of July 16 to 22.
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