Hamilton hospital ‘cohorts’ COVID-19 patients to limit spread, open up beds

One of Hamilton’s major hospitals is shifting its capacity planning to make room for more beds by cohorting coronavirus patients into a single ward.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says with the curve flattening in the city and fewer COVID-19 patients expected to be admitted to Hamilton hospitals, staff are now adjusting bed capacity to increase clinical activity in departments such as emergency department and intensive care units.


Dr. Wes Stephen, EVP clinical operations and COO of HHS, says the decision is actually coming from the province and bed capacity guidelines set by Ontario Health.

“In our capacity planning, we actually did divide, develop excessive capacity, recognizing that we don’t need all that at this point in time,” said Stephen.

“We are still reserving a significant number of beds in case the number of patients does increase over the next little while.”

Steven says moving patients into a single area also minimizes spread amongst patients and staff who are not infected by the virus. It also saves on the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), he said.

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“It’s a good conservation measure on our PPE supplies … to really cohort or put all the patients in one area. And in fact, as of next week, we’re hopeful that we are going to put all our ward patients into one ward.”

For the foreseeable future, the exec at HHS says existing containment measures, such as visitor restrictions and screening, will remain in place across all HHS sites recognizing that COVID-19 is still circulating.

Stephen says flattening the curve means that the virus may linger in the community for months because many people still haven’t been exposed to it.

He says hospitals may regularly see COVID-19 outbreaks — as they do with the flu — which means dedicated wards for those patients may be the new norm.

“So it is a delicate process of starting to integrate scheduled care again for the community, as well as giving the message that we have to be really vigilant about, you know, keeping our physical distancing and gradually opening up things and not doing it where we get a rebound.”

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