BROCKVILLE -- Smaller hospitals in eastern Ontario are feeling the impact of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some receiving patient transfers from larger cities.

At Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH), 27 patients have been transferred out since April 1, to make room for patients with COVID-19 related illnesses in eastern Ontario.

"I will say the pressure is absolutely still on, I think we are feeling that across the province," said Jeanette Despatie, President and CEO of Cornwall Community Hospital.

"We actually are transferring quite regularity to other hospitals in the area, including Brockville General Hospital, Winchester Memorial and Kemptville. We regularly transfer to Glengarry Memorial in Alexandria as well."

The number of ICU beds has grown from 11 to 17 to handle the demand, and Despatie says the hospital was running at 135 per cent capacity at the beginning of April with 210 beds full.

"Our typical operating capacity is around 156-160 beds. We are seeing 188 as a nice new normal and today we are in and around those numbers," Despatie said, adding patients that were transferred from CCH were not COVID-19 positive.

"These are patients that are not requiring critical care services, but acutely ill (and) need hospitalization are being transferred out in an effort for us to maintain or gain as much critical resources as we can going forward, hoping to be able to meet those critical care needs as they come in."

Despatie says the hospital has been using 15 of its ICU beds on average every week.

One thing she says has helped was the postponement of surgeries, which has freed up nurses.

"For example, nurses that normally would work in the operating room or the recovery room are quite accustomed with working with the equipment and that level of aquity. So they've been freed up and are available to critical care units or some of the nursing units with oxygen needs, etcetera," Despatie said.

"I think we are definitely swimming above water right now and really that we have tried very hard to position ourselves that way because we know and believe in those projections that are out there saying the needs are just going to increase."

The Brockville General Hospital

West along the 401 in Brockville, CEO of Brockville General Hospital (BGH) Nick Vlacholias says they are doing everything they can to help.

"I'll use the example Kingston Health Sciences Centre, they have received a significant amount of patients from Scarborough and Lakeridge and some of those patients are actually in our ICU here," Vlacholias said.

Since mid-March, Brockville General Hospital has received 11 non-COVID patients from Cornwall, and 19 COVID positive patients from Kingston, Scarborough and Durham region.

As of Thursday, nine patients are currently in the Brockville Gneral Hospital ICU with COVID-19.

"It's close to capacity," said Vlacholias. "We run usually around 10 beds, we can go up to 12 beds and we are looking another options of accelerating and expanding even more."

He says part of the reason Brockville has room to accept those transfers is that local transmission throughout the Leeds-Grenville County has been low.

"The community has done a wonderful job," he said. "Local transmission of COVID cases and hospitalization is probably one of the lowest in the province of Ontario. I think from the beginning of the pandemic, the community has stepped make sure we follow all of the measures from public health."

He added the care patients receive at Brockville General is the same as any other hospital.

"The care is standard across the province of Ontario. What you get in Toronto, you get in Brockville," Vlacholias said, adding the order to ramp down surgeries has freed up nurses as well.

"That will free up staff across the organization to allow us to increase the capacity and take on additional patients from outside the region," he added, saying BGH has not transferred any of its patients to other hospitals.

"The province is really operating as one hospital," said Despatie.

"Patients are being moved to ensure they get the care that they need. It may not be close to home, unfortunately today given the demands, but we are making sure that capacity is being utilized across the entire province as the needs are coming in in different pockets," she said.

"It's one unified approach and it's just amazing to see Team Ontario hospital system doing what it's doing today," added Vlacholias, also cautioning the community to stay safe.

"We need your help right now more so than ever so please follow those rules outlined by public health."

Despatie echoed that advice.

"Absolutely avoid any unnecessary contact. We are all seeing that this variant is aggressive, that people are becoming very ill at any age and will likely have their health compromised for a very long time," she said.