Collingwood has an extra 25-beds standing by for COVID-19 patients should the need arise.
Though staff have worked for over a month to build the alternative health facility (also known as a field hospital) and Collingwood General and Marine Hospital has spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment for the site, the hope is never to have to use it.
Collingwood General and Marine Hospital CEO and President Norah Holder led a tour of the facility, located inside the Collingwood Legion for local media today.
"We started planning this just after COVID hit," said Holder. "This is about being ready to address a surge of cases anticipated in the second wave or in rolling waves."
Nurse manager Aimee Stinson, who has been redeployed to oversee the alternative health facility, said she hopes the site will never be needed.
The facility can, however, be operational within 24 hours, and a few things would trigger its activation.
The Legion site would be opened if the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital starts to reach capacity at the 77-bed facility on Hume Street and there's an increase in COVID-19 cases in Collingwood and surrounding communities requiring hospitalization, or if the region starts seeing a surge in cases and Collingwood is called upon to help care for COVID-19 patients from across Simcoe County.
"This site is for patients with COVID who are recovering, but that can change because everything changes quite quickly," said Holder.
John Widdis, manager of plant operations and maintenance for Collingwood G&M Hospital, has been overseeing the set up of the facility at the legion for more than a month.
He said the facility is designed so it can be wrapped up and stored in a C-bin container and then be set up again in three days should it be required. The hospital has a lease agreement with the Legion until the end of August, so the site will remain set up until at least then. The hospital owns the equipment now, so the alternative health facility is part of the hospital's inventory for as long as it lasts.
The equipment can be set up anywhere, even if the Legion isn't available when the hospital activates the alternative health unit.
The equipment in the facility, including the beds and vital signs monitors (which haven't been installed yet) had to be purchased for the site.
"We are a lean hospital," said Stinson. "We have no space and no extra equipment."
The G&M, like all hospitals in Ontario, is required to submit a list of COVID-related costs to the government. The alternative health facility, however, isn't the only source of additional costs due to COVID. The hospital has incurred extra staffing costs for enhanced cleaning services, higher costs for PPE, and additional equipment costs for the G&M as well as the field hospital.
Collingwood council allocated up to $100,000 to the field hospital for the set up of a permanent back-up generator. Holder said the site is currently hooked up to a temporary generator, but the money from the town could still be used toward a new, permanent one.
The alternative health facility will rely on the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital for daily deliveries of food and supplies. The site will be staffed by nurses, personal support workers, and a physician, and hospital staff have been running simulations to be prepared for possible future scenarios.
"Every discipline and department has been instrumental in creating this," said Stinson.
The facility will be staffed by the existing team of healthcare professionals working at Collingwood G&M Hospital.
Stinson said there is a multi-scenario approach for staffing at the alternative health facility.
"We need to be adaptable," she said. "We don't have that crystal ball."
Currently, the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital is taking a phased approach to a "ramp-up" plan that includes reopening the operating room for non-emergency surgery and offering services that were shut down for the pandemic.
Holder said the hospital hopes to be able to lift some visitor restrictions soon as well.
The hospital has lifted restrictions on employee vacations and is now encouraging front-line staff to book holiday time through the summer.
However, should the alternative health facility be activated, the ramp-up plans would have to be postponed. Holder said the hospital staff would then be redeployed to cover both the G&M and the alternative health facility, as well as being on standby for local long-term care facilities in case there are outbreaks and the nursing homes need backup from hospital staff.