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Saskatoon hospital so full of COVID-19 patients it moved some into laundry room: doctor

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SASKATOON -

A laundry and medical storage room at St. Paul's Hospital was "cannibalized" to make space for two COVID-19 patients, Saskatoon ICU physician Jeremy Kutulka says.

He says this was the case when he was at the hospital last week.

"I don't know this very second whether they're in there but certainly that what used to be a laundry and storage room was converted into a space for patient care," he told CTV News.

The hospital's flex unit was also filled with patients. The hospital has had to look at expanding into the post-operative care unit, which is far away from the rest of the ICU, in order to temporarily house patients before they can be transferred, he said.

"St Paul's is, literally, physically full. There is no other physical space to put people so they're kind of at a hard maximum."

Royal University Hospital has more space - but not enough staff to work there, Kutulka said.

"So at RUH, we've taken over the old pediatric intensive care unit and a flex unit off to the side. And in this last week we were managing COVID patients in what used to be the neonatal intensive care unit, which was just turned into one large space with a cohort of up to six COVID-positive patients."

Those are suboptimal spaces and they move patients out as quickly as possible, but when numbers are up they take care of patients wherever they need to, he said.

As of Thursday, the province was treating 322 people in hospital including 76 in ICU, according to the provincial dashboard.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an "order of magnitude" worse than SARS or H1N1 - and it's "almost unfathomable" that the province would be in this situation after having been through three waves and knowing what public health measures work, he said.

"We managed to suppress numbers when we didn't have any vaccines. So the fact that we're implementing these really unthinkable and sort of dramatic ... that we're dealing with such crazy overcapacity when 70 of the population is protected and we have a toolbox of public health interventions that have been proven to work, it's hard to take.

"It's really frustrating, you know, as a citizen of this province, but also as a doctor, watching these people suffer. It seems very unnecessary."

Derek Miller, commander of the Saskatchewan Health Authority Emergency Operations Centre, said St. Paul's expanding into former patient rooms that had been converted into storage space is part of the SHA's strategy of expanding its footprint wherever it can.

However, he said at Wednesday's Emergency Operations Centre briefing, the real limitation is the number of highly skilled, trained staff needed in order to deliver services

"So I'll say the the triggering of the out of province transfers is really a reflection of how we have reached a level where the care delivered in our ICUs is being impacted. And that's reflection, as I a mentioned, of the nurse to patient ratios, having non traditional providers in our spaces, extensive overtime and ongoing strain on the teams there.

"So it really, this all comes down to the staff and our ability to actually have those staff be available to deliver care in those expanded spaces."

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