ORNGE now using ambulance buses to transport COVID patients to Kingston and other cities

ORNGE transportation units are now using ambulance buses to help with the transport of COVID-19 patients.

The multi-patient buses are on loan from York Region Paramedic Service and Toronto Paramedic Service. They would usually be used for a mass casualty situation, and can accommodate large numbers of people in an emergency.

Dr. Michael Lewell, ORNGE associate medical officer, tells CTV News Ottawa that ORNGE is using the bus to transfer two patients at a time.

He says the benefit of the ambulance buses is it helps move patients who are being transferred from the same hospital to the same location.

"Instead of using four paramedics in two ambulances, we can put two critical care paramedics in the bus, one with each patient, and someone to drive and help with logistics," he explains. "And that allows us to staff another ambulance elsewhere in the system with the other paramedics, so we’re maintaining even more movement of patients within the GTA."

Lewell says they can only have two patients on board, due to the nature of the virus.

"In the setting of critical care where the need for mechanical ventilators and multiple infusion pumps and the oxygen to move all of those and power all of those, we can’t use multiple, multiple patients on the same bus."

Reg Hart with Kingston General Hospital calls the buses "important."

"They’re quite important actually in helping improve the efficiency that's been happening," Hart tells CTV News Ottawa. "Usually they transport one patient at a time, so yesterday we were able to receive two ICU patients along with all their equipment."

On Wednesday, ORNGE transported 59 patients by land and air to create ICU capacity in the GTA. That’s the highest single day for transfers in April, according to officials.

The buses were first used on Wednesday to transport patients from Scarborough to Kingston, says Lewell, because the distance between Kingston and the GTA allows for land transfer.

Kingston General Hospital says as of Wednesday, there were 46 COVID-19 patients being treated in the hospital, with the majority in the ICU.

Hart says Kingston will continue to play a pivotal role in easing ICU over capacity.

"We have expanded our critical care space from 65 to 95 beds and we’ve been asked to look at potentially if we’re able to expand to 20 beds if needed," he explains.

With 800 patients in ICU in the Ontario as of Thursday, Lewell says ORNGE has tripled its capacity to transport patients already.

With the demand on hospitals expecting to dramatically increase in the coming weeks, Lewell says they continue to look at ways to move patients as needed, including whether more ambulance buses are needed.

"It’s very sobering to know that looking ahead to next month, it is the potential, the volume of transports, we’re just not going to be able to meet the requirements because we’re at our maximum threshold," Lewell says. "In that regard, we have other contingency plans to build capacity in the health care system to be able to meet the anticipated volumes."