First Toronto COVID-19 patient now at Bluewater Health

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Officials expect one or two GTA patients per day

The first of what is likely to be many COVID-19 patients from the metro Toronto area have arrived in Lambton County.

Julia Oosterman, chief of communications and public affairs at Bluewater Health, says Lambton paramedics went to Toronto to pick up the patient who is now in the Sarnia COVID-19 unit.

The GTA is struggling in the third wave of the pandemic. Today, there are 2,360 people hospitalized in the province; 773 in are in intensive care, many of those people are in the GTA.

Oosterman says Bluewater Health, like other hospitals across the province, are now being asked to step in.

“We have capacity in our ICU,” says Oosterman. Right now, Bluewater Health has seven people in the intensive care unit – down from 11 a couple of days ago.

“We were asked to ramp down surgeries to prepare for this because there’s some hospitals in the GTA that are getting, you know, 50, 60,70, 100 COVID patients walking in their emergency department a day.”

While only one patient is heading to Sarnia now, she expects to see between one or two people a day as the crisis increases.

“We’re anticipating that we’re prepared for that. It’s kind of a team Ontario approach being taken right now. As we would want, frankly, if we had 100 COVID patients walking through our door.”

Bluewater Health’s COVID-19 unit is geared to provide care for up to 30 people, however Oosterman says the unit may be stretched if needed. That could mean non-COVID-19 patients may end up in Petrolia for care.

Oosterman says as we head into the 14th month of the pandemic, doctors, nurses and all other health care workers are on board to do their best to help relieve the pressure in Toronto.

“The province is entering that phase that Italy was in at the beginning of the pandemic …. Some physicians are talking about what triage would be… what you would do if you had to decide which patient required a ventilator and which patients didn’t if you had a short supply of ventilators, we’re not in that position in Sarnia.” Bluewater Health has seen people in their 40s in the ICU similar to what Toronto is seeing.

And while the situation in Sarnia has not been as dire as what the GTA is seeing now, it has been tough, Oosterman says.

“We’ve had 38 deaths (at the hospital), it would be unrealistic and unfair of me to characterize this as anything but an exhausting time. Staff are absolutely exhausted. I have spoken to many physicians, many nurses, I can’t even believe what our colleagues in Toronto are going through.

“On a good day, we have a difficult time, having people wait in the emergency four or five, six hours; that bothers us. What happens if it’s a COVID patient who’s on a gurney in the hallway? That’s what’s happening right now…not here, but that’s what’s happening.”

While Lambton’s number of daily COVID-19 cases has decreased steadily since a lockdown order in March, Oosterman says “we’re not totally naive to recognize that we are about one bush party away from this being us.”

Despite all that, Oosterman says Bluewater Health employees are ready to do even more.

“We also have had employees who have stood up and raised their hand and said, ‘If you need me in Toronto, I’ll go to Toronto.’ “They’re recognizing that this is not a local issue. This is a provincial, national and international pandemic. And they’re wanting to go and help. So, it is the most inspiring group of people I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.”