Wellington County hospitals brace for spike in local COVID-19 cases

Still no word from province on opening of local assessment centre(s)

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The three hospitals in Wellington County have cancelled elective surgery and closed some clinics in order to free up space and staff as they prepare for a spike in numbers of local COVID-19 cases.

The move has opened 250 hospital beds and freed staff to focus on COVID-19 related duties, said Stephen Street, CEO and president of Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus, Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest, and Palmerston and District Hospital in Palmerston.

Together the hospitals form the Wellington Health Care Alliance.

On March 28, there were 211 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario, brining the provincial total to 1,355. To date, only one case had been confirmed in Wellington County – on March 22 in Mount Forest – and it was acquired in the community and not from travel exposure.

No assessment centres have yet been opened in Wellington County. But sites in or near the hospitals have been identified, and Street said he continues to await direction from the Ministry of Health on when they should become operational.

On March 27, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) confirmed three more cases of COVID-19 in Dufferin County, bringing the total there to five. The first case in Dufferin County was confirmed on March 16.

There was still just one case confirmed in Guelph, but on March 26, Guelph General Hospital declared an outbreak on one of its wards after four healthcare workers became ill. Those cases are recorded in the workers’ home health units and are not reflected in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph numbers.

So it’s here, Street said, “and it’s an intense time for everyone. The most important thing people can do is observe that social distance.”

So far there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) at the hospitals to go around, Street said, adding a recent donation of plexiglass face shields “will help to preserve the masks,” and “We’ve had many donations of gloves and that is really helping us too.”

Still, a plea has gone out for masks, goggles, gowns and face shields.

“We are helping co-ordinate that,” said Lori Arsenault, executive director of the Groves Hospital Foundation. “Anyone who has personal protective equipment is asked to donate if they can. Then we’ll make sure it’s equipment we can use and need.”

She said auto shops, meat packers and other industries sometimes have masks and face shields that meet medical standards. N95 masks are especially needed, she said.

As the foundation wraps up a multi-year fundraising campaign for equipment for the new Groves hospital, Arsenault said it doesn’t feel right to start another campaign related to COVID-19.

“We’re reaching the end of our campaign and we thank the community for their support. I thank staff, too, for working in these times,” she said.

Anyone with PPE to donate can email Arsenault at larsenault@gmch.fergus.net.

Street said a small team continues to prepare the new Groves hospital, which was to open this spring. At this point, he doesn’t know exactly how the transition plan will be affected by the pandemic, but it surely will.

There were to be training and orientation sessions for staff in the new site prior to its opening and just one week when both hospitals would be operating at the same time to complete the transition.

Although it’s possible both sites could be used to treat COVIOD-19 patients should the need become so great, it is not one of the contingency plans under consideration at this time.

“We have already found additional capacity, and we are also advertising for staff in all areas of the hospital,” Street said. “It’s a fine balance, finding extra capacity and then finding appropriate staff.”

Already some healthcare workers are home with their children and not reporting to work. Street said they are looking for ways to get them back on the job as well, as they brace for a spike in cases locally.

“We’re working with the county to find childcare solutions,” he said.

For up-to-date health information regarding COVID-19, visit the public health website.

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