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Several Toronto area hospitals are redirecting temporarily redirecting paediatric inpatients requiring hospital admission to the Hospital for Sick Children as their facilities are facing overwhelming COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Any children requiring hospitalization at William Osler Health System hospitals -- Etobicoke General and Brampton Civic -- will be transferred to SickKids, according to a memorandum obtained by CTV News Toronto on Thursday.

The GTA Hospital Incident Management System first issued an order for the temporary redirection of paediatric inpatients at Etobicoke General on Dec. 23, and then another order at Brampton Civic on Jan. 5, due to “Osler’s growing and urgent capacity needs.”

“Osler continues to serve paediatric patients at both sites through our various programs (e.g. children’s mental health, outpatient clinics, etc.). If a child needs to be admitted, they will be referred under the usual process, seen by a paediatrician, and transferred to SickKids,” the memo read.

The hospital network said the orders will be reassessed in four weeks.

St. Joseph Health’s Centre and Humber River Hospital are also making similar changes. In a statement issued Thursday, Unity Health Toronto, the hospital network that St. Joseph is a part of, said children who need to be admitted for a hospital stay may be transferred to SickKids where there is capacity.

“That is because our St. Joseph’s site, along with William Osler Health System and Humber River Hospital, is working with SickKids to help create adult inpatient capacity at our sites. We anticipate this to continue until COVID volumes return to more reasonable levels in the GTA,” the statement read.

“This type of collaboration, led by the GTA Hospital Incident Management System and in cooperation with all Toronto hospital partners, is vital as we move forward and we are proud to be a part of this system-based approach.”

In an interview with CTV News Toronto, Dr. Julia Orkin, a staff physician at SickKids, said the hospital has been preparing to accept paediatric patients from other hospitals with overflowing COVID-19 patients.

“Throughout the pandemic, paediatric hospitals across Ontario and Canadian hospitals, where there are paediatric inpatient beds, including SickKids, have been working in partnership to develop a system whereby we could support each other in the recognition that adult disease burden for COVID-19 was presumed to be a significant concern,” Orkin said.

“With increasing community spread of COVID-19 in the GTA region over the last few weeks, our adult partners within the hospital system are now really facing significant pressures and experiencing large volumes of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and many requiring intensive care.”

Orkin said the move is an immediate stopgap solution that allows hospitals to create additional bed spaces for patients.

While SickKids usually accepts paediatric transfers from other hospitals, Orkin said it usually involves patients who have more complex or subspecialty needs.

“What’s the difference here is that we’re transferring patients who otherwise may be healthy, who have a simple condition that’s often very easily treated, such as a urinary tract infection, or pneumonia,” she said.

“And these patients would be well cared for closer to home, but we are supporting that home hospital to use the pediatric beds for adult patients, or however they see fit for their community.”

She emphasized that the changes will not affect hospital operations, saying there are no plans to delay or cancel procedures at SickKids.

Orkin also pointed out that the hospital has the capacity to accept transfers because it has not seen the surge of seasonal cold and flu patients, which typically happens during the winter season.

“One positive silver lining is that the collaboration between hospitals across the GTA, from a pediatric perspective, has been an incredible opportunity,” she said.

“This is one of the first times that pediatric clinicians are working in such collaboration to really support the entire community.”

Similar to what occurred at Etobicoke General late last month, the paediatric unit at Brampton Civic will be repurposed “exclusively for medicine capacity.”

Osler said it is working to prepare staff for redeployment to other areas across its health system in an effort to support its COVID-19 response.

“We are partnering with Professional Practice to ensure there is a safe mixed model of nurses with appropriate training and upskilling to care for adult medicine patients,” according to the memo.

Osler also noted that the orders will not affect the birthing unit at either hospital and that the urgent paediatric assessment clinic will remain open at both sites.

Meanwhile, Trillium Health Partners which is also inundated with COVID-19 patients, have combined one of its paediatric units with one of its obstetrical units to ensure that both services will be maintained.

THP said it is in communication with SickKids and “will be working with them if needed to increase capacity and ensure patient care.”

The temporary changes come as the province logged a record 3,518 new COVID-19 cases and a single-day high of 89 deaths on Thursday.

Of those new cases, Toronto recorded 891 new infections and Peel Region reported 586, according to provincial health officials.

The latest provincial data, which lags behind more up-to-date numbers reported by local public health units, said 1,472 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday, up from 1,235 one week ago. Of those hospitalizations, 363 are in intensive care units, up from 337 last Thursday.