WINGHAM, ONT. -- Seven COVID-19 patients are being treated at Grey Bruce Health Services in Owen Sound. Four are from Grey-Bruce while three have been transferred from overflowing intensive care unites (ICUs) in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The ICU patients are first moving to the larger centres like London, and then secondary centres like Stratford, Woodstock, St. Thomas, and Owen Sound,” says South Bruce Grey Health Centre CEO Michael Barrett.

In Stratford they have three ICU patients transferred from the GTA, and three more in their medical unit. In in first two waves of the pandemic, no COVID-19 patients were transferred from GTA to the Stratford General Hospital.

“It’s a very significant for all hospitals, currently. A major concern with the pressures. We get daily updates from the central command table that looks at how we’re going to handle today’s ICU patients in the province. There are patients moving daily, and we expect the numbers locally to increase,” says Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance CEO Andrew Williams.

The trickle down to even smaller, rural hospitals, is also starting to take shape in the third wave. Patients displaced from hospitals in Owen Sound and Stratford end up in smaller hospitals.

To meet demand, surge beds are being added in hospitals like Walkerton and Hanover. Non-urgent surgeries are being cancelled across the region. X-rays are even being slowed to 50-75 per cent capacity in hospitals like Kincardine.

“Our staff are the most precious commodity during this challenging time. We have ramped down surgeries and other procedures to ensure we have enough staff to staff those beds that require care at this time,” says Barrett.

“That patient that requires urgent follow up for stroke care who can’t get to St.Mary’s in Kitchener, or London for a cardiac cath, because of COVID pandemic volumes in those regions, the impacts will be felt across the system,” says Goderich-based family physician, Dr. Paul Gill.

Health officials expect at least 10 ICU patients from the GTA to arrive in Southwestern Ontario every day for the foreseeable future.

They hope it’s a only a short-term fix, because it’s not a long term solution to the growing ICU numbers in the Greater Toronto Area.