The University Health Network (UHN) says the three intensive care units at Toronto General Hospital are at or near capacity as the health-care system struggles to keep up with demand.

In an email to CP24 Tuesday, a UHN spokesperson confirmed that Toronto General Hospital is under a “critical care bed alert” affecting their medical-surgical, coronary and cardiovascular intensive care units.   

“This means that our 3 intensive care units --CVICU, CICU, & MSICU—are at their total bed capacity and/or have limited human resources to safely keep all physical critical care beds open and in operation,” UHN spokesperson Rosa Kim said.

“Due to multiple factors including issues driven by the ongoing pandemic, we are experiencing a staffing shortage that requires this action.”

While under the alert, Kim said, the hospital is actively triaging patients that require specialized ICU care and is working collaboratively with Criticall — a ministry-funded organization that helps ensure patients in the province can access urgent and emergent care — to ensure patients “get the most appropriate care.”

An Aug. 1 report from Critical Care Services Ontario obtained by CP24 indicates that critical care beds at Toronto General sat at 59 per cent occupancy as of Monday. While the report indicated that there were 50 critical care beds physically available, the ability of the hospital to use those beds for treatment is limited by the availability of nurses and doctors to care for those patients.

Just three of the 73 critical care beds occupied at the hospital Monday were being used for patients with COVID-19-related critical illness, the report showed, indicating that a sudden rise in COVID-19 infections could easily exacerbate the already-precarious situation.

The critical care bed alert at one of Toronto's busiest hospitals comes as the Ontario health-care system struggles to keep up with demand.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones told CP24 Tuesday that she is working with stakeholders in the health-care system to try and solve staffing shortages and other problem hampering care.

But emergency and critical care workers in the province say the situation is becoming desperate.

Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an emergency room physician who works at three GTA hospitals, told CP24 that the strain on the system is plain to anyone seeking treatment.

“The most important answer is not what I say, it's what patients and families feel,” Venugopal said. When patients are waiting hours with a major dislocated joint to be reduced, when patients are waiting hours in a chair for a fracture to be put in place, when senior citizens are waiting three to four days on a gurney to be admitted to hospital, when my patient right now is on day four of their stay on an ER gurney for trauma — when those are the real situations in this province today, what do you think the people of Ontario would say to the minister if they were asked ‘Do you feel well looked after?’”

Registered Nurses Association of Ontario President Claudette Holloway called the situation “dire and dangerous” in another interview with CP24 Tuesday.

“I have not seen it this bad but we know that over the years, there has been a shortage of nurses in Ontario, particularly registered nurses. Our quota has been less than other provinces,” Holloway said. “So this is certainly a dire and a dangerous situation that needs drastic responses from our politicians.”

She said she and other health-care workers are “ready to sit at the table” to discuss long-term recruitment and retention strategies for the province.