COVID-19 is a call to service: Kingston is responding
This blogpost was co-written by Jane Philpott, David Pichora, Cathy Szabo, and Kieran Moore
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a call to service. Since the pandemic took hold in Canada, we have seen an outpouring of generosity across all parts of society. In the health sector, we have seen nurses, doctors, therapists, and other health workers step up to join the frontlines. We have seen health professionals, who are not currently practicing, raise their hands to be put on reserve lists. We have seen health systems come together to find creative solutions to things like PPE needs, testing, bed capacity issues, vaccine distribution, and ventilator shortages at an extraordinary pace.
As health professionals, we have never felt more aligned to our mission; to the very reason why we entered this field in the first place: to help people.
And while we find ourselves in a strong position in the Kingston, Frontenac Lennox, Addington (KFL&A) region, hospitalizations continue to rise dramatically across the province. Where our hospitals are ready and able to take patients into the ICU and onto COVID wards and have the available resources to serve our region, hospitals in the Toronto area and elsewhere are well beyond their capacity.
What is troubling when hospitals are stretched beyond their capacity is not just whether there are enough beds for their patients. It is whether there are enough specialists, other health professionals and staff who can manage the volume of patients and provide the type of care that those patients need. If capacity is pulled from one area to cover another, hospitals must contemplate difficult questions. If there were a major car accident, could we handle a sudden high volume of trauma patients? Can we operate on the patient with a hepatobiliary malignancy that is extremely time sensitive? How do we cope with escalating mental health ER visits, and not lose sight of people who are suffering as they wait for cataract or joint replacement surgery?
It would be terrifying to find yourself living in an area where you knew that your local hospital may not be able to treat you in an emergency.
Fortunately, this is not how our health system works.
When one hospital is over capacity, there is a release valve: other hospitals. Ontario Health acts as a federation of regions that supports the transfer of patients, doing so in a way that keeps patients as close to home as possible, while situating them at an institution that has adequate resources to provide care.
As Toronto area hospitals become increasingly overwhelmed, more and more patients are being transferred outside the GTA. Recently, Kingston has been asked to take out-of-town patients both at Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Providence Care.
In the context of a pandemic, this can raise some anxiety. It brings forth questions that were common back in the spring of 2020. Do we have enough PPE to handle an influx of patients? What about ventilators? How soon can we vaccinate those caring for COVID+ patients? If we have patients with COVID-19 coming to Kingston, will it spread to the community? How can we protect our providers and their families? Will we suddenly find our own hospitals over capacity?
The simple answer to these questions is that “we can do this” and we can do it properly. Filling our beds with people who need care is safe. It is also heeding an essential call to service.
We are in an incredibly privileged position here in KFL&A. Our response to COVID-19 has been one of the most successful in the province. And the finish line is finally in sight as vaccines begin to roll out across Ontario. But as the prognosis in densely populated areas like Toronto continues to worsen, we have a responsibility to help. We are proud that we have the capacity to do so. In one of the most critical moments for our provincial healthcare system, we are part of the solution. We are ready to serve as all health professionals are trained to do. We can help to save lives.
We are grateful to the whole community for their support throughout many difficult months. Let us get on with this heroic work together.
Jane Philpott is the Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences and CEO, Southeastern Ontario Medical Association
David Pichora is the President and CEO, Kingston Health Sciences Centre
Cathy Szabo is the President and CEO, Providence Care
Kieran Moore is the Medical Officer of Health, KFL&A Public Health