Royal Jubilee to build new unit to deal with COVID-19 cases

Royal Jubilee Hospital is getting a $7-million, eight-bed unit designed to handle COVID-19 cases, possibly by fall.

The high acuity unit will provide a level of care between a general ward and an intensive care unit, which is the highest level. It is designed for patients who have failing organs, offers blood pressure support and dialysis, and has advanced monitoring capabilities.

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Planning for the unit was underway before the pandemic, said Dr. Omar Ahmad, head of emergency and critical care medicine for the health authority.

“But now, in the setting of the pandemic, we basically need it yesterday. There’s just a huge demand for it.”

The Victoria Hospitals Foundation has raised $1 million toward the eight-bed unit. It needs to raise an additional $6 million. “Now that we have this incredible opportunity with the Victoria Hospitals Foundation supporting us, we actually have the ability to build much sooner,” Ahmad said.

The location of the unit within the hospital has not been finalized.

Island Health is still planning and can’t say when the new unit will be operational, but Ahmad suspects it is months rather than weeks. It could possibly be in place for what provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said could be a second wave of the pandemic in the fall.

“We’re actually working on a permanent solution as opposed to a temporary solution,” Ahmad said. “There’s an incredible need for this now. It’s going to provide great purpose and have great utility now today — but it’s also going to have utility for future years to come.”

The unit, specially designed to care for patients who are critically ill, is to include a central monitoring station, eight new patient monitors, a dedicated ultrasound and other specialized equipment.

Royal Jubilee Hospital is one of the two designated primary sites for COVID-19 patients on Vancouver Island. The other is Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Royal Jubilee is the referral site on Vancouver Island for critical and complex care patients — the sickest of the sick. It has three critical care units: The intensive care unit, with 11 beds for patients typically needing multiple organ support, and two others, with eight beds each, for coronary care.

In the context of COVID-19, the ICU cares for patients who cannot breathe on their own without life-support measures including ventilators, who are unable to maintain their blood pressure without medications, or who are so sick their kidneys can’t function and need dialysis.

Ahmad said there is an overflow in the other critical care areas, “potentially displacing those patients.”

“Right now, we are doing OK … but the worry is as we get more and more patients, will it impact other services.”

Procurement and purchasing of beds and equipment has already begun with the province.

Island Health board chairwoman Leah Hollins said while hospitals are already treating patients with COVID-19, “we know that number will increase and we will be ready to support their needs.”

The Victoria Hospitals Foundation has launched the “It’s Critical” campaign to raise the $7 million needed for the unit.

“More than ever, we see our community united, and deeply connected to our hospitals,” said Steve McKerrell, chairman of the the foundation’s board.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

• Donations can be made online at victoriahf.ca/critical, by mailing a cheque, through gifts of securities, or by calling 250-519-1750.9

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