Wellington County hospitals working with neighbouring hospitals in COVID response

Street: 'As a system, we’re working together through COVID-19' to even out patient load, build capacity system-wide

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The three hospitals in Wellington County will soon be opening their doors to patients and doctors from neighbouring municipalities.

Stephen Street, president and CEO of the Wellington Health Care Alliance (WHCA), said in an interview on Dec. 9 that Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Aboyne has already expanded its CAT scan hours to help ease strain on facilities in Kitchener and Waterloo.

“And in the new year we’ll do the same with the [operating rooms] – open them up for teams in other areas,” he said.

“As a system, we’re working together through COVID-19.”

WHCA hospitals – Groves, Palmerston and District Hospital and Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest – don’t have intensive care units (ICU). Therefore, concerns about coronavirus cases overwhelming ICUs is not a direct concern here.

But there’s a ripple effect, Street said, and shifting services to other hospitals is a way to even out the total patient load and build capacity system-wide.

Wellington County tweeted a message on Dec. 8 that stated 22 of the 27 ICU beds in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph were in use, although not all were COVID-19 patients. Those beds are at Guelph General Hospital and Headwaters Health Care in Orangeville.

During the first wave, hospitals stopped all non-essential procedures and visits to the emergency department dropped dramatically.

Street said he’s heard anecdotally that people may have ignored their symptoms to avoid going to hospital in those early days of the pandemic.

Services have since ramped up, and so have emergency visits.

“The volume is back up in the ER and the acuity and complexity (of patients) is gravely high,” Street said.

While most people watch daily COVID-19 case counts and deaths, Street said hospitals watch for numbers around capacity and influx.

“It hasn’t had an impact on operations,” said Street.

Infection control measures are always in place in hospitals and they have been enhanced this year, he explained.

As well as more cleaning and protective equipment, hospitals have restricted visitors and visiting hours.

“We’ve seen quite a few (COVID cases) in hospital,” he said.

“The second wave is much bigger, but we have not seen a large impact on our services, yet.”

So far, WHCA hospitals have not had an outbreak, but it remains a concern.

Patients come to hospital with COVID-19, “but it’s staff bringing it to hospitals that cause outbreaks,” he said – it is not spread from infected patients.

“As facilities go into outbreak, we have to scale back to increase capacity. Staff is impacted and we may have to stop procedures,” said Street.

So keeping the virus under control in the community is the best way to keep it under control in hospitals, too, and everyone has a part to play in that, he noted.

“Minimize contacts, wear a mask, keep physically distancing, and wash your hands,” Street said.

“We know it’s difficult. These are sacrifices and it’s hard. But it’s for the greater good, and it makes such a difference.”