When Alison McVinnie’s husband Kevin Crozier suffered a severe stroke in February, he was transferred between three different hospitals, all within hours.
In a quick attempt to get specialist care, the 54-year-old was admitted to the couple’s local hospital near Collingwood, Ont., Then transferred to a larger facility 40 minutes from Barrie, Ont. before being airlifted to Sunnybrook. Toronto Health Sciences Center for life-saving surgery.
As a result of this procedure, Crozier was referred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie at the end of March to recover closer to home, ending his time bouncing back in the province – at least McVinnie thought.
“You could just feel the mood and the energy change,” she said. “And things were getting stressful.”
The number of COVID-19 admissions to Ontario’s intensive care units was increasing and on April 9, the province announced an emergency order allowing hospitals to transfer patients without consent to help increase the capacity of hospitals. hard-hit establishments.
Just over a week later, McVinnie was told that a fourth unexpected transfer for her husband was in the works.
Crozier was eventually sent to a hospital in Orillia, Ont., An hour’s drive from the couple’s home, forcing McVinnie to re-explain his situation to another medical team.
He has since battled secondary infections, including pneumonia and pulmonary embolism, and began to struggle more to communicate. Although he doesn’t have COVID-19 himself, McVinnie said, her beloved husband ended up being “collateral damage” in the pandemic.
And she still doesn’t know when he will return home – or if he will be transported elsewhere.
“You are completely helpless,” McVinnie said.
‘Stressful all around’
So far this year, more than 2,000 patient transfers have taken place across the province, many without consent, between regions within hours of each other – from Toronto to Ottawa to northern Ontario. .
And while the move may help increase hospital capacity in areas where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, several Ontarians who spoke to CBC News said it is also tearing families apart and having an emotional impact on loved ones. patients and healthcare workers. take care of them.
At the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie, the last place Crozier stayed before his last transfer, pandemic pressures have become intense this year.
The facility now has a field hospital on site and has had to transfer at least 118 patients to other hospitals in recent months – mainly those requiring less intensive care – to ensure there was a bed capacity to care for patients coming from the Toronto area.
Since the start of December, more than 200 patients in the Toronto area have been transferred and the majority were battling COVID-19, the hospital told CBC News.
“Moving the patient for an hour on the road, or sometimes across the entire province, to get care, this distance is very difficult for families,” said Dr. Chris Martin, Intensive Care Team Leader of the Royal Victoria Hospital, adding that “everything is stressful. around” for its staff too.
1,133 patients transferred in April alone
Ornge, a non-profit air ambulance service operating in Ontario, has been instrumental in moving patients around the province in recent months – to frightening levels.
Since January 1, the Ornge team and local paramedics have completed at least 2,068 intensive care capacity building patient transfers, which does not count transfers made for other non-pandemic reasons. according to the latest data.
The monthly tally has increased month-to-month, with 1,133 patients transported in April alone during the province’s third wave peak.
Some of these people were treated on their trip by Ornge’s ICU paramedic Naomi Williams, who said she had never experienced anything like the current wave of transfers during his 21 years of work.
Trips can take hours, which often means Williams does well in the evening or even after midnight. Even then, she says, there never seems to be enough time to handle the constant load.
“It’s exhausting, to be honest,” she told CBC News. “We are all working so hard right now. We are working additional teams to try to cover the demand. ”
Sometimes, after loading critically ill and intubated patients onto a stretcher to prepare them for transport, Williams said, she sees family members waiting near ambulance bay, hoping to get a first glimpse of loved one since their admission.
Once the patient is on board, each transfer is filled with perilous moments where Williams is alone in the back of an ambulance, on the lookout for any bumps in the road that might bother a fragile patient – including many young adults. .
“I cannot believe the frequency and sheer volume of people who need this type of care,” she said.
Ministry of Health recognizes ‘difficult period’
In response to questions from CBC News, Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson Anna Miller said provincial officials recognize that “these are very difficult times and particularly painful for those in need of care. hospitable ”.
Despite provincial investments to increase capacity, the hospital system faced “unprecedented pressures on critical care capacity during Wave 3,” she said.
Ontario’s emergency order allows hospitals to transfer patients only when necessary, in response to a surge in admissions and in the hope of making reasonable efforts to transfer patients to the site. origin or other suitable location, Miller said.
Radhika Gandhi, a resident of Brampton, Ont., Whose father underwent a transfer between hospitals before his death from COVID-19, said she hoped policymakers would learn from the current capacity crisis before he there will never be another pandemic.
She said her father, Kanaiya, developed symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of December after an outbreak at the factory where he worked. He was admitted to Brampton Civic Hospital, where Gandhi said it was easy to build a relationship with his father’s medical team.
“There was a doctor who spoke my father’s mother tongue,” she said, “and they were able to speak to him in Gujarati before putting him on a ventilator.”
But to the family’s surprise, and although Kanaiya was based so close to their home, the hospital later announced that it would be moved to another facility an hour’s drive from Newmarket, Ont. After this move, he died on February 4, at the age of 58.
“In the weeks after his transfer he had a lot of secondary infections. It really made me wonder, was it because of this transfer? If he had stayed in Brampton Civic, would would that have happened? ” Gandhi said.
“And there’s no evidence leading to that, saying the transfer did anything. But you can’t help but wonder.”
“ Trauma after trauma ”
Speaking to CBC News at her rural home, a bright red home meant to mimic the apples found in the orchard in front of each fall, McVinnie said she hoped to open a new chapter with Crozier at the property they came from. buy last year. – a complex where their children can visit and where they could receive friends in their golden years.
Now he feels empty without his husband, although McVinnie was able to drive an hour each way to get to her husband’s hospital to visit him closely every day and monitor his slow recovery. He communicates more, she says, and regains his sense of humor.
Yet this latest transfer, she said, sounded like “trauma after trauma.” And she knows her family is not alone.
“COVID has its own path which is so destructive. But what is happening where we are is we are moving people who also need medical attention,” McVinnie said.
“And that’s an example in the surgeries being canceled and the old people being sent here and there and everywhere … and, you know, it kind of diminishes their importance.”