With flu season fast approaching and young children particularly vulnerable, Ontario hospitals are feeling the pinch.
In some cases, hospitals have been forced to move pediatric patients to another location more frequently than they used to.
“I can’t think of a more stressful time as a family member knowing your child needs critical care,” said Tammy DeGiovanni, chief nurse executive at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa.
And if they then have to move, “they are taken away from the local care facility,” she says. “You will be removed from your support network. I can’t think of a more traumatic experience for a family.”
DeGiovanni said transfer demand has increased in recent months, and particularly in recent weeks. While the past week has been “incrementally better,” she said the hospital is still “working at maximum capacity.”
It’s not a CHEO specific scenario. Five or fewer children and five or fewer babies have been transferred at London Health Sciences Center Children’s Hospital in the past six months.
In the same period, 10 or more patients were transferred from outside the region.
“Knowing this is a concern across the province, we are working closely with our colleagues and the government to find innovative ways to address these challenges,” spokesman Alex Pedersen said in a statement, partly citing the capacity pressures repatriating more children with viruses.
High demand for hospital resources, continued shortages of health workers and high patient needs have also meant McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton is “more likely to transfer young patients to hospitals in other regions for care,” spokeswoman Wendy Stewart said, per E-mail. Mail.
“These transfers will only be made when absolutely necessary to ensure a patient continues to receive the care they need.”
According to Trillium Health Partners, which operates hospitals in Mississauga and west Toronto, its capacity problems have not yet resulted in transfers. North York General Hospital said the same, and spokeswoman Anne-Marie Flanagan said: “We have activated our Surge plan.”
While SickKids did not respond to a request from CBC Toronto, it said on Twitter that ICU patient traffic was “extraordinarily high.”
“This is respiratory virus season,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Associate Medical Officer of Health for Toronto Public Health.
“It’s getting colder, we’re going indoors, that means if someone’s contagious, they’re more likely to spread and you’re more likely to pick them up.”
Dubey said public health is preparing for “more respiratory viruses.” And while she couldn’t say what the specific impact on children might be, she did note that children aged five and under are particularly vulnerable to influenza — and it can end up in the hospital.
“Even healthy children can get very sick from these viruses,” she said. “So we want to make sure we’re preventing what we can and that the flu vaccine really is our best defense.”
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for capacity issues, DeGiovanni said.
“The children’s healthcare system in Ontario – I would say all of Canada – is not designed for what is needed,” she said. “What COVID has done, particularly in relation to children’s health, is really widening those cracks, really making things visible.”