With the third wave of COVID-19 filling up intensive care units across Ontario, the North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) is waiting to shoulder some of the load.

“We’re anxiously waiting for that request to come imminently,” said Paul Heinrich, CEO of the NBRHC. “It’s a very dire situation in southern Ontario and we’re absolutely here to do our part and support healthcare at the provincial level.”

Ontario announced two emergency orders late last week allowing for easier transfers of both patients and medical staff around Ontario.  The NBRHC has been designated as a load-sharing site for any COVID-19 overflow since last fall.

“With our proximity to the south as a northern city, we’re quite likely to be tapped to help out,” Heinrich said.

As hospitals in Ontario hotspots fill, elective surgeries were ordered to pause for the southern part of the province. The order did not extend to northern Ontario.

“We are pleased that we temporarily avoided the ramp-down order, but in the event we receive patients, we’ll have to adjust our surgical volumes at that time. We’ll do it in a planned and appropriate way,” Heinrich said, adding he’s not concerned about a surgery backlog at the hospital.

The NBRHC has the capacity to hold about 33 COVID-19 patients. There are 21 critical care beds and 12 beds that can be designated specifically for COVID-19 treatment.

It could be more than just beds that the NBRHC will have to offer, as some critical care staff may also be transferred to other Ontario hospitals.

Heinrich says the NBRHC will facilitate any staff transfers and says there are some staff who are willing to be redeployed if they get asked.

The hospital will get 48 hours’ notice from the province for any patient transfers from out-of-district.

When asked what would happen if patient transfers coincide with a rise in local numbers, Heinrich says he’s confident his team will figure it out.

“We always find another gear. We try to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

As of April 12, Ontario had 619 patients in intensive care for COVID-19.