SickKids Hospital preparing ICU unit for adult patients as GTA hospital capacity continues to be strained

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is shown on Thursday, April 5, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ives)

SickKids Hospital is preparing to open a new unit to treat adults in need of critical care as Toronto's intensive care unit capacity continues to be stretched to its limit amid a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release issued this week, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) confirmed that ICU admissions at the downtown facility have remained low during the pandemic and the hospital has agreed to begin accepting some adult ICU patients if necessary.

"The recent increase of COVID-related intensive care unit admissions has strained the adult health-care system, while ICU admissions at SickKids have remained low. Therefore, SickKids was recently asked to consider admitting previously healthy adults (approximately 40 years old and under) with COVID-19 who require ICU admission from other hospitals," a news release from the hospital read.

"After detailed discussions with key stakeholders and considerable preparation with various clinical teams, SickKids is preparing to open an eight-bed unit within its ICU for these patients, if needed."

Patients will only be transferred to SickKids once certain hospitals in the GTA have exhausted available capacity after activating surge plans and all transfers have been attempted to hospitals in neighbouring regions.

"SickKids has the clinical expertise to care for adult patients, the appropriate processes and protocols in place including robust infection prevention and control measures, to ensure the safety of all patients, families and staff," the hospital said.

"In addition, we have the physical capacity to accept these patients while minimizing disruption to the safe care of paediatric patients and hospital operations."

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across Ontario hit a record high 510 on Tuesday and over the past month, experts, including members of the province's own science advisory table, have warned that tough public health restrictions are needed to prevent hospitals from becoming completely overwhelmed.

Last week, the Ford government implemented a month-long provincewide shutdown in an attempt to bring surging case counts under control as the more transmissible variants of concern (VOCs) take hold. Sources have confirmed to CP24 and CTV News that the premier now plans to implement new measures today, including a stay-at-home order that will see all non-essential retail stores shuttered for at least four weeks.

Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, said Wednesday that the province will not be able to bring cases down and protect the health-care system without vaccinating all adults in hot spot communities, enforcing rapid testing in essential workplaces, and offering proper paid sick leave to prevent essential employees from going into work sick.

“We need to go after COVID-19 where it is and that’s in those high-risk postal codes. It’s in those essential workplaces,” Warner said in a video statement released on Wednesday.

“Unless we address the root cause, these four weeks or however long it will be, will be squandered and more people will die."