TORONTO -- With some GTA hospitals now overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, the incoming executive vice president of Ontario Health is warning that “we need to be prepared for the possibility that people may need to be quite far from home to get the care that they need.”

Dr. Chris Simpson, who will formally assume his new role on Feb. 1, made the comment during an interview with CP24 on Friday afternoon.

Simpson said that while he recognizes that it is important for patients to be close to their families, it may not always possible to accommodate as officials embark on an “unprecedented effort” to free up capacity in overwhelmed hospitals that are largely located in the GTA.

His comments come one day after the President and CEO of Ontario Health sent a memo to all Ontario hospitals asking them set aside one-third of their available ICU beds for transfers from other hospitals that are at capacity.

Several Toronto area hospitals also announced on Thursday that they are temporarily transferring paediatric patients to SickKids hospital to create additional bed spaces for COVID-19 patients.

“Everybody wants to be close to their family and family wants to be close to patients so it will be really important for our clinical teams to exercise their renowned compassion and wherever possible we will be trying to move people not too far,” Simpson told CP24. “But I think we need to be prepared for the possibility, especially as the pandemic progresses, that people may need to be quite far from home to get the care that they need.”

According to the Critical Care Services Ontario report, there were a total of 383 COVID-19 patients in ICU units as of late last night.

That represents more than one in five ICU patients across Ontario but the impact is not being equally felt.

In the Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which includes many of the hardest hit hospitals in Peel and York regions, nearly half (75) of the 160 patients in the ICU as of yesterday had COVID and some hospitals like Humber River have regularly had more patients in their ICU than beds available for weeks now.

Meanwhile, more than 40 per cent of the intensive care beds in northern Ontario remain open and there are only a handful of COVID-19 patients receiving that level of care.

“We have this extreme asymmetry in Ontario where COVID has disproportionately struck areas like Toronto, Peel, Durham, York Region, Windsor and others and there are other areas in the province that have capacity,” Simpson said. “We have a responsibility collectively to take care all of these patients. That is why we are embarking collectively on this unprecedented effort to do this load sharing as best as we can.”

Simpson said that he expects that there will probably be hundreds of patients that will be transferred over the next couple months in an effort to free up capacity.

He said that hospitals are also being asked to have plans in place to put some elective care on hold.