‘This wave is going to be characterized by the human resource challenge’: RVH Chief and Medical Director of Critical Care

ICU beds are for more than just COVID patients

Usually in the province, on average, the intensive care units are 80 to 90 per cent full on good days, according to Dr. Christopher Martin, Chief and Medical Director of Critical Care at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).

“Then you add in this new COVID pneumonia and respiratory failure patients and that can overwhelm the system very quickly,” Martin said.

There are 17 intensive care beds at RVH and as of Wednesday afternoon, Martin said there were four patients being treated for COVID-19 itself and one person who was in ICU with another illness that happens to be COVID-positive.

“That’s one of the numbers we’re tracking,” explained Martin. “Because so many people are infected, and we have people who have had cancer surgery or an overdose, and they also have COVID. So, they’re not here because of COVID, they are here because of other things.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says it is only reporting hospitalizations if the person requires hospitalization for COVID-19 related illness. 

Don’t shrug off the ICU numbers. It’s just not about COVID-19. Anyone at any time could require an ICU bed.

“The intensive care unit is the highest level of care we can provide any patient, and it’s for critically ill patients from a wide variety of issues,” noted Martin. “This can be anything from a big cancer surgery that may have been eight hours long and the person needs lots of fluid, or it can be after heart attacks, regular bacterial pneumonia’s, an overdose or trauma.”

“It’s when the body has suffered a great deal of insult and requires invasive monitoring, one-on-one nursing, and special drugs to maintain blood pressure or high levels of oxygen.”

What’s different about this wave compared to others is the impact on staffing levels.

“Because there’s so many staff who are off because they themselves have COVID, or they have a close contact and cannot come back to work and are awaiting testing, we may have an actual physical bed, but no nurses to take care of the patient.”

Compared to some other areas of the hospital where absenteeism is well over 100 staff with COVID, Martin says they have been lucking in the intensive care unit.

“This wave is going to be characterized by the human resource shortage, as opposed to probably the number of very sick COVID patients.”

Martin encourages people who have not been vaccinated or have not gotten their booster shot to do so.

“The COVID patients we’re seeing in the ICU are almost all unvaccinated.”

On Thursday, the province reported 2, 279 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario, up by 198 individuals. Of those, 319 patients are in intensive care, an increase of 31 from the day before, and 87 of those patients are fully vaccinated.