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Kingston-region hospitals shuffle space to make room for Ontario COVID-19 patients

As COVID-19 cases continue to grow in Ontario, hospitals in the southeastern region, especially in Kingston, are working quickly to deal with medical care and intensive care capacity demands.

Unlike other regions in the province, cases in the southeastern region, which comprises Leeds, Grenville Lanark, KFL&A and Hastings Prince Edward, remained relatively low for much of 2020, specifically in the latter two health regions.

“As much as Kingston has been lucky, I think our luck has pretty much run out,” said vice president of patient care Dr. Renate Ilse at Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

“Both here in KFL&A and in Hastings, Prince Edward, our local prevalence is climbing and a certain percentage of those people will end up in hospital,” Ilse said.

Nearly half of Kingston’s total cases, 1,083, have been detected between Jan. 1 of this year until now — 172 of which were confirmed variants.

Read more:
Kingston’s main ICU at capacity, including 17 out-of-region COVID-19 patients

In Hastings and Prince Edward, 241 of 728 total cases have been recorded over just the last two weeks.

In the Kingston region, active cases hit an all-time high of 135 on Sunday. In Hastings Prince Edward, they stand at 160.

Local case counts, like those in the province, are being driven by variants, which in turn is resulting in record-high hospitalizations. Monday, Ontario reported more than 4,400 new cases, with 619 people in ICUs, an all-time high for the province.

Because of surges across the province, local hospitals are not only caring for southeastern COVID-19 patients, but COVID-positive patients from hot spots like the Greater Toronto Area and Eastern Ontario.

Read more:
Ontario government adding ICU beds, hiring nursing students to deal with COVID-19 case surge

The province has been moving patients from various hospitals to others in what they’ve called “a single, seamless system” meant to “provide safe, effective care to both COVID and non-COVID-19 patients” in Ontario, according to the Ontario Health Team.

These transfers are being headed by the Ontario Critical Care COVID Command Centre.

“It is a fast-paced ebb and flow of transfers, with a hospital potentially a ‘sender’ one day and ‘receiver’ the next. Transfers can take place in or across regions and patients and families are being supported,” the Ontario Health Team said in an emailed statement.

As of Monday, Kingston General Hospital ICUs, of which there are three, are treating upwards of 20 COVID-19 patients from out-of-region. There were also two people in hospital, neither of which needed critical care.

According to Ilse, there are now 78 intensive care unit beds available at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) with the ability to ventilate COVID-19 patients if necessary. At the beginning of the pandemic, KGH had 65 ICU beds.

Ilse said that they’ve also added 17 critical care beds to a surgical unit that can not ventilate patients at this time, but can provide “high flow nasal oxygen, which is one of the alternative treatments or earlier treatments for COVID patients,” she said.

Click to play video: Surgeries cancelled as Ontario braces for more COVID-19 patients

Last week, Global News learned that the two largest of the hospital’s three ICUs were at times at capacity, but many of the beds were filled with local patients needing non-COVID-related care.

Despite the recent challenges, Ilse said the hospital has been preparing for this moment since March 2020.

“Last year at this time … we all got ready for something that didn’t really happen here,” Ilse said.

Still, Ilse said KGH, which has the most ICU and medical care capacity of any hospital in the southeast region, is nowhere near reaching its capacity limit, and there are plans to expand capacity extensively if needed.

Last week, KHSC CEO Dr. David Pichora said Kingston’s field hospital location at St. Mary’s of the Lake is “ready to go” but not being used.

Both Ilse and Pichora noted that Providence Care has freed up two units to take in patients from KGH as well.

“We’re also moving a bunch of medicine patients over to our Hotel Dieu site (Monday) as well, to kind of reorganize the units really to make the most use of our space,” Ilse said.

Still, no matter how many beds are added, staffing those beds is a problem.

Read more:
COVID: GTA hospital pediatric units close, patients being transferred to Toronto’s SickKids hospital

Right now, Ilse said they’re redeploying nurses mainly from recovery and surgery to critical care and ICUs after the province ordered a pause in elective surgeries last week. Allied health staff are being moved to critical care as well, and KHSC has hired a number of new respiratory therapists, even people usually in places like occupational therapy and audiology are lending a hand where they can.

Although it’s been busy, Ilse said staff are also “ready to go” and morale has been up, since much of what they’ve been preparing for over the last year is coming to them from across the province.

“I would expect that when people have been working flat out for a week or two, that we’re going to have to work really hard to maintain that (morale),” she said.

Nevertheless, Ilse said that moving forward, Kingston hospitals will also be taking on COVID-19 patients from out-of-region who do not require critical care.

“There are huge transport challenges to move patients from Toronto, and while they may need our help, it’s difficult to get the people over. So I think that the Toronto group is starting to move non-ICU patients who are also COVID-positive more to try to proactively create space there,” she said.

Ilse said that Toronto-area hospitals will also look to move patients to other southeast region hospitals. Global News has reached out to the main hospitals in both Brockville and Belleville to determine their capacity limits during the third wave of the pandemic.


As of Monday, Quinte Health Care says Belleville General Hospital is treating a total of 10 COVID-19 patients. The hospital organizations did not give exact numbers, but said some of the patients are transfers from out-of-region.

Belleville’s hospital has only one ICU, with 21 beds, with the capacity to ventilate 17 people if needed.

Right now, there are three patients in ICU, only one of whom is on a ventilator.

Quinte Health Care provided all the above information through a statement, and could not provide an interview for this story.

Click to play video: Inside look: Variants push Toronto hospital to the brink


According to an emailed statement from Brockville General Hospital, its staff have taken in eight non-COVID patients from Cornwall Community Hospital over the past few weeks, five of whom are still in hospital.

“We anticipate more patient transfers this week. These patients are non-COVID and do not require ICU care at this time,” a statement from the hospital read.

The hospital is also expecting to transfer one patient from Kingston to Brockville Monday, who is also not COVID-positive.

Brockville General Hospital has one ICU unit with 10 beds and 13 ventilators. The number of beds can be pushed to 12 in case of a surge.

“Occupancy has been averaging 70 per cent but fluctuates on most days. We have been at full capacity at times during the last few weeks,” the hospital said.

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