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Provincial investment will nearly double CHEO's ICU and critical care beds

CHEO’s pediatric intensive care unit will permanently expand to 13 beds from its current seven-bed unit. The hospital critical care unit will permanently double in size, adding six beds to the existing six.

File: CHEO (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario)
File: CHEO (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario) Photo by Felix Chagnon /POSTMEDIA

Amid a health crisis that has pushed CHEO beyond its capacity, the Ontario government has approved funding to nearly double the children’s hospital’s ICU and critical care capacity.

CHEO’s pediatric intensive care unit will permanently expand to 13 beds from its current seven-bed unit. The hospital critical care unit will permanently double in size, adding six beds to the existing six.

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“Over the past two decades, the population has grown, new diseases like H1N1 and COVID have appeared, and the prevalence of other illnesses, including pediatric cancer, eating disorders and inflammatory bowel disease, has increased. That has meant that our critical care capacity has become seriously outgrown,” said hospital CEO and president Alex Munter.

“This investment is key to helping us deliver the best and safest care possible for the future. While our goal is always to keep kids out of these beds, we know that they will serve our young patients and enable us to alleviate the constant pressures on our staff, medical staff and learners.”

The announcement comes amid an unprecedented surge of severely ill children struggling with more severe influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) than normal while COVID-19 continues to circulate.

The surge has forced CHEO to open a temporary intensive care unit, which has mostly been filled with children under the age of two having difficulty breathing. Like other children’s hospitals, CHEO has also cancelled some surgeries and treatments, and continues to see long waits in its emergency department.

Among other things, the province has directed that children 14 and older now be treated at adult hospitals to take some pressure off.

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones visited CHEO and met with Munter last week during a stop in Ottawa.

“We want to make sure that our pediatric hospitals, like CHEO, are right-sized to the needs of our growing population and continue to provide world-class critical care when families need it most. We are proud to be investing in CHEO to help double their pediatric and intensive critical care bed capacity,” Jones said in a statement.

Intensive care beds, or Level 3 critical care, are for children with the most critical illnesses, including sepsis, those requiring advanced ventilation to support their breathing and trauma victims.

Critical care beds, or Level 2 critical care, are for children with acute illnesses that require continuous monitoring of their vital signs and extra nursing support.

CHEO is the only hospital between Toronto and Montreal with a Level 3 pediatric intensive care unit. The hospital serves a large geographic area whose population of children and youth is growing quickly. Between 2016 and 2021, Ottawa’s child and youth population grew at nine times the rate of Ontario’s.

The Children’s Health Coalition, which includes CHEO, has called for a $1 billion investment in children’s health care in Ontario over the coming four years.

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