Extra ventilators arrive in Ontario hospital ICUs to aid COVID-19 patients

Ontario hospital intensive care units now have nearly 2,000 beds equipped with ventilators to help care for COVID-19 patients, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from March, according to data obtained by CBC News.

The latest Critical Care Services Ontario daily report on the pandemic shows a province-wide capacity of 1,971 ICU beds equipped with ventilators. That’s up from the report’s previous tallies that showed 1,219 beds with ventilators last month.

Ventilators are essential to the survival of people with the worst cases of COVID-19, as the illness can result in severe pneumonia making it difficult for patients to breathe on their own.

Figures published by Ontario’s Ministry of Health on Monday morning show 589 people hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The ministry says 216 of those are in ICUs, including 160 on ventilators.

Modelling released by the province on Friday suggests Ontario will need to add an extra 900 intensive care beds to cope with a projected steep rise in COVID-19 patients over the next two weeks. The peak is forecast to hit hospitals between April 16 and 20, with as many as 1,200 cases of COVID-19 in the ICUs.

This graph is Ontario’s forecast of demand for additional intensive care beds at the province’s hospitals over the coming weeks, based on the current rate of spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

The province is allowing hospitals to take their own steps to expand intensive care bed capacity, though it is not yet clear how they will find the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists necessary to care for the patients.

“We are definitely going to be stretching our capacity,” said Anand Doobay, chief of medicine at Markham-Stouffville Hospital, in an interview with CBC Toronto.

“We’re staffed to manage a (critical care) unit of 15 patients so the challenge is looking at how do we staff a unit that suddenly has 45 or 50 patients.”

Current published figures show 19 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are hospitalized at Markham-Stouffville.

Doobay said there is “no easy answer” to the staffing challenges. “People are going to be working much harder than they normally do, and we’re going to be working in a different way than we normally do,” he said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday the province is recruiting retired nurses, medical students and other volunteers to help staff overstretched hospital departments.

Some of Ontario’s 34 public health units are providing local breakdowns of the number of patients in intensive care. Their most recent numbers include: .

  • Toronto Public Health  58
  • York Region Public Health 20
  • Ottawa Public Health 15

With files from Lisa Xing


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