Windsor patients heading to Sarnia as ICUs overflow

File Photo Bluewater Health,

Full ICUs across southwestern Ontario and surge of COVID-19 in Lambton also prompt Bluewater Health to consider cancelling elective surgeries

Bluewater Health has reopened its COVID-19 unit and among the first to be treated there will be patients from Windsor-Essex. That’s comes as Sarnia officials consider whether elective surgeries can continue in Lambton.

Windsor-Essex has been struggling with the virus for a month with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the province. Tuesday, the Windsor Essex Health unit reported 174 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. There are 2,471 active cases in the community with 102 people in hospital.

Julia Oosterman, director of communications at Bluewater Health says the Sarnia is expected to start accepting the first of the Windsor patients today. Some may end up in the COVID-19 unit.

“Months and months ago, we planned for this day knowing that there was a very good likelihood in January and February to the two worst month in any way, from a capacity perspective, we would need it,” she says.

Oosterman says the situation in Windsor-Essex was getting difficult for the hospitals to handle. “I think they have been super valiant in their efforts for a while,” she says. “They have they have pulled out every stop; they have called for reinforcements and now they are taking the next step of asking for their partners to to lend a hand and it simply is simply behooves us to help.

“This isn’t necessarily about where someone lives. This is about saving lives.

It’s not clear yet how many people will be coming to Sarnia from Windsor – Oosterman says it is likely to be “only a handful of people.” The COVID-19 unit at Bluewater Health has 30 beds. Six people from Lambton are being treated there now.

And while Bluewater Health is lending a hand to its neighbours now, it is unclear how long they may be able to provide relief. COVID-19 cases are soaring in Lambton with 323 people ill and six people hospitalized.

Oosterman says January and February are difficult times normally for hospitals. Right now, Bluewater Health’s 14 bed ICU is full; two people have COVID-19 the others are recovering from various other illnesses.

Intensive care units from Windsor to London are full. Oosterman says that’s a big concern.

“We have 14 beds and 14 people, only two of them today are COVID. But if you’re already at 100 per cent, like the airplane full, and someone else needs to get on the flight … I’m very cautious to not paint the picture of everything rosy… We are on a precipice.”

The full intensive care unit, new patients coming in from Windsor, and rising rates of COVID-19 in Lambton could cause problems in about two weeks says Oosterman.

She says hospital management, which has already severely restricted visitors to patients, is now “weighing its options” about elective surgery.

In the first wave of COVID-19, the province halted all elective surgeries, including joint replacements and cancer surgeries, to deal with COVID-19. Right now, Bluewater Health is still doing elective surgeries, trying to reduce the backlog caused by the first round of the virus.

“Other jurisdictions have completely scaled back or stopped all all elective surgeries,” Oosterman says. “At this point, I don’t have an announcement on that; I have nothing that I can confirm or deny but I can tell you it’s absolutely 100 per cent in discussion because we see a tsunami coming in.

“It is such a difficult decision. That is the kind of thing that keeps people up at night,” she says.

For now, health care workers in Sarnia prepare to help their Windsor neighbours.

“We only can help people as our capacity allows. Today, we have 83 per cent capacity, so today we can help.”