Windsor Regional prepared to resurrect field hospital to increase bed capacity

Dave Waddell 3 minute read January 7, 2022

Windsor Regional Hospital officials are dusting off plans for resurrecting the field hospital at St. Clair College as ‘the crunch weeks’ of the cresting wave of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 looms this month.

With the hospital’s two campuses already approaching 85 per cent bed occupancy, there’s a fear the explosion of cases expected in the next 14 days could overwhelm the system.

“We’ve had preliminary discussions with the college and, if we need to do that, the field hospital could be up and fully running in seven to 10 days,” Windsor Regional’s CEO David Musyj said. “We don’t want to do that if we don’t need to.

“There’s also an issue of will we have the human resources to do that and what type of patients go in there.”

The hospital has tripled scheduled each shift’s position to ensure there are backups in the case of employee illness. Currently there are 363 staff members isolating due to close contact or infected with COVID-19 among the hospital’s 4,800 employees.

Windsor Regional Hospital’s field hospital at the St. Clair College SportsPlex is shown on Friday, April 17, 2020. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

Chief of Staff Dr. Wassim Saad this wave of Omicron presents different challenges than the first two variants.

In the pandemic’s first year, preserving ICU beds was the concern, but now it’s ward beds.

Currently there are six patients in the Intensive Care Unit and 44 patients overall in hospital due to COVID.

There are seven critical care, 11 surgical, 17 medical and four pediatric beds currently open, along with some family birthing and mental health beds.

“I don’t expect our critical case capacity will be overloaded,” Saad said. “It’s more the medical beds we’re focused on.”

Windsor Regional’s Chief Nursing Executive and COO Karen Riddell said the need for a field hospital will be dictated by load balancing of beds.

Riddell said all hospitals assess their bed occupancy and staffing levels two or three times daily. During COVID, patients have been moved around the region and province to help maintain that load balance.

Windsor Regional Hospital’s field hospital at the St. Clair College SportsPlex is shown on Friday, April 17, 2020. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

“When there’s no capacity to move patients around the city, region or province, that’s when we’ll have to pull the trigger (to open the field hospital),” Riddell said.

Musyj said a field hospital would be for recovering patients, not acute care. He’s also optimistic the lessons learned from the first three waves plus, the impact of vaccines and other supporting medicines will prevent that need from developing.

Hotel Dieu-Grace Healthcare also provides a back-up scenario for non-acute care beds.

“We haven’t seen the full impact of Omicron yet,” Musyj said.

“The crunch weeks are going to be January 10 and 17 based on forecasts. Unfortunately, they are going to be a very difficult time for our healthcare system.”

Musyj said he expects the next four to six weeks to be rough for health care, but based on experiences reported elsewhere, the variant could peter out as rapidly as it arrived.

“Because it moves so quickly, it’s possible it’ll be over more quickly,” Musyj said. “By mid-February or the end of February things could stabilize.”


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