Military helps Toronto field hospital, ICU starting Friday as Hamilton waits

A military task force is set to start helping staff at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s field hospital and intensive-care unit (ICU) in Toronto, but won’t be heading farther south to Hamilton yet.

Maj. Sonia Dumouchel-Connock, a spokesperson for the Joint Task Force Central (JFTC), said Sunnybrook had “urgent staffing needs.”

Stéphane Masson, tasked with leading the deployment to Ontario’s hospitals, said prioritizing Sunnybrook was a provincial decision.

“The members of the task force are in daily discussion with the province to make sure we can provide the best effect with the members we have on the ground,” he said in an interview on Thursday. 

“We are in discussion with Hamilton Health Science to see what their need could be.” 

WATCH: Here’s how Sunnybrook’s field hospital will help:

An 84-bed field hospital at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is close to being ready to accept recovering COVID-19 patients, says Robert Burgess, senior director of emergency preparedness at the hospital. 8:02

Bringing in the military comes as COVID-19 pushes Ontario hospitals past their limits.

As of Thursday morning, the provincial website reported  2,248 people with COVID-19 in hospital and 884 intensive-care unit patients, 620 of them on ventilators.

Mason said Public Health Canada approved the request for extra help on April 25.

50-member task force starts 1st shift on Friday

Dumouchel-Connock said Task Force PRESIDIO, a squad of 50 military members, trained at the Toronto hospital for the past two days and will start its first shift Friday.

The task force includes a command and support element, nine critical-care nursing officers and two medical teams with 17 members each.

The critical-care officers have the same skills as civilian ICU nurses, Dumouchel-Connock said, and will help relieve the Sunnybrook ICU, which is at capacity.

The medical teams will help the field hospital staff. Each mainly consist of nursing officers and medical technicians.

They’ll tend to patients, and help with triage and some assessment of “vulnerable populations.”

The field hospital will care for patients in relatively stable condition. There are six patients in the field hospital and two more are expected to enter it Friday.

The task force will work in Toronto until May 31, but could stay longer if the military decides to extend its stay.

Mason said the members are ready and proud to get started.

“Providing care and support to the partners and the community, there’s no better mission than that,” he said.

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