In order to ensure hospital beds are available for COVID-19 patients in the event of surging case rates in communities, today Ontario gave hospitals the power to transfer patients to long-term care homes or retirement homes temporarily to free up space.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the emergency order announced today is a temporary one as officials grapple with the third wave of the pandemic.
"This temporary emergency order will give hospitals the flexibility to transfer certain patients, those who doctors have determined no longer require hospital care and could be better served in a more appropriate setting to a long-term care or retirement home," Elliott said. "This would be done in only the most urgent of situations, when a hospital is at risk of becoming overwhelmed."
Ontario said the move is necessary in response to the rapid rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions, which is putting significant pressure on the province’s critical care capacity, saying the move was made in consultation with Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health. In order to accomplish this, the province is amending O. Reg. 272/21 under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).
Ontario said there are currently hundreds of people in hospital who are admitted only because they are waiting to be discharged to a long-term care home or other care setting, but no longer require acute hospital care.
"First priority will be given to patients with less complex care needs and those who are able to be moved close to their preferred choice," Ontario said in a news release.
“While this is an extremely difficult decision to make, the consequences of not doing so could be devastating if we don’t have the hospital beds we urgently need to care for the growing number of COVID-19 patients," Elliott said today.
Transfers will be done only when the transfer will not compromise a patient's medical condition, and people will only be transferred to locations where their needs can be met. For instance, Elliott said today that a patient who does not speak English will not be transferred to a location where they cannot receive services in their first language.
As well, Elliott said "every effort" will be made to ensure transferred patients are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 before moving.
Further, patients who are already on a waiting list for long-term care at the time of their emergency transfer will not have their position on the waiting list for their first-choice home affected.
As of April 23, the government waived the co-payment for hospital patients bound for long-term care who are transferred to an LTC facility that is not their first choice until they transfer to their first-choice home or decide to stay in their current home. Similarly, the retirement home’s care and accommodation costs to the individual will be waived until they receive a placement offer from their first-choice long-term care home. Funding will be provided to the retirement home from the government.