Monday, January 24, 2022

Mobile hospital units sitting in warehouses hit Canada’s hospital capacity as Omicron

Workers build a field hospital in the parking lot of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on March 17, 2021.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa allocated $300 million at the start of the pandemic to build 15 mobile hospitals, but only four 100-bed units have been completed and are sitting in storage despite pressure on hospitals nationwide due to Omicron.

The federal government awarded a sole contract of up to $150-million in April 2020 to a joint venture between SNC-Lavalin and Pacific Architects and Engineers (SNC-PAE), set to build five mobile respiratory-care hospitals. In existing structures such as convention centers and indoor skating arenas.

A similar multimillion-dollar contract went to Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd for 10 stand-alone field hospitals that could be deployed in urban or remote areas.

So far, Weatherhaven has delivered three units and none of them are currently in use, according to the office of Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Two of those units were deployed early last year at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and the Hamilton Health Sciences Hospital network for several months. In October last year, an oxygen concentrator from one of Weatherhaven’s units was dispatched to the Northwest Territories to handle an influx of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

Since awarding the contract, SNC-PAE has received a $71 million payment from the federal government and delivered a mobile hospital unit, which also sits in a warehouse in Ottawa and has never been deployed. According to SNC-Lavalin, money has also been spent on specialized medical equipment for use by the government.

No province has yet asked for any mobile hospitals during the current Omicron wave. The SNC-PAE Mobile Respiratory Care Unit can handle 100 patients across five wards, which include 20 intensive-care-unit beds with oxygen respirators. Weatherhaven’s Portable Tent Hospital also handles 100 beds and includes ventilators.

A senior federal official said the health department believes that provinces have not requested mobile pandemic hospitals because they do not have enough nurses or doctors to staff. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Lorne Wiesenfeld, an emergency physician at Ottawa Hospital and deputy dean of graduate medical education at the University of Ottawa, acknowledged the shortage of health care workers. He said many are ill or have been quarantined due to contact with a sick family member or friend.

However, he said there is a definite need for federal mobile units.

Dr. Wiesenfeld said, “Hospitals are filled with a lot of patients who are with COVID.” “This can lead to a situation where there are not enough hospital beds. It is also complicated as there is an outbreak of COVID in many wards so no new non-COVID patient can be brought in that ward.”

Canadian Medical Association president Catherine Smart said she could understand why provinces didn’t ask for federal units given the burnout, attrition and COVID-19 infections of nurses, doctors and other staff.

“Of course it would be nice to have more physical space, but it doesn’t help when you don’t have the human health resources to do it,” she said. “The crisis facing us is that we need more space for employees than people.”

Dr. Smart said spending $300 million on mobile hospitals is not a waste of money and added that the pandemic should raise larger issues of government funding to address the long-term shortage of overall health care workers.

“We have to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Dr. Smart said. “But what we learned from this pandemic … is we have to understand that without health care professionals there is no health care and we need to see investment there.”

SNC-Lavalin said it was fulfilling the contract and had no control over the actions of the provinces.

“If the provinces need additional capacity, the federal government wants to be prepared,” said Harold Fortin, senior director of communications at SNC-Lavalin. “Obviously, health care is a provincial jurisdiction and our understanding is that deployment should be initiated by the Government of Canada and/or as and when the provinces and territories seek support.”

The Globe contacted the governments of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta to ask why they are not taking advantage of mobile hospitals more. All responded except Quebec and while none expressed a direct interest in the mobile units, all said they would act to obtain the resources they needed when they became available.

Alberta government spokesman Jason Maloney said the province has been able to increase hospital capacity to handle the increase in COVID-19 patients.

In testimony before the House of Commons Health Committee in June, Bill Matthews, the then-federal Deputy Minister for Public Services and Procurement, said the government had decided to spend $300 million on field units to ensure the country was able to survive the waves of COVID-19. ready to handle. -19 cases.

“It was done at a time when you were seeing that emergency rooms are over, lack of space is an issue,” he said. “You saw the cruise ship in New York Harbor, and we saw other countries taking steps to plan for mobile hospital units.”

Mr Mathews said Ottawa sole sources the contracts to meet a potential urgent need, adding that the SNC and PAE have experience providing field hospitals for the Canadian Army and the US Army in Afghanistan.

The government of Manitoba said in an e-mailed statement that it outlines its needs in conversation with the federal government but does not make specific requests. Manitoba said it is up to Ottawa to assess the resources at its disposal and deploy them as it deems fit.

The Ontario government said it had accelerated efforts to add hospital beds and build up the province’s health care task force.

Health Minister Christine Elliott’s press secretary, Alexandra Hilken, said Ontario “did not hesitate to ask the federal government for assistance” to bring mobile health units online to provide increased capacity to the health system in the spring of 2021.

“We will continue to work with our hospital partners to ensure they have the support they need and will not hesitate to take further action as needed,” she said.

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