WINDSOR, ONT. -- Windsor-Essex hospital leaders are sending a message to the community that the local healthcare system is facing extremely serious strain.

The leadership teams of the region’s three local hospital organizations, supported by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, sent out a memo to the community on Friday.

“Your urgent help is required in ensuring we can continue to provide health care services to all who need it,” said the memo.

WECHU reported 27 people in the hospital related to COVID-19 on Friday, with seven patients in the ICU.

Hospital officials say in just the last week there have seen outbreaks declared at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and Windsor Regional Hospital, which risk significant reductions in available bed capacity at both institutions at a time when hospital bed use is above 100 per cent.

Patients in Windsor are being diverted to available space at Erie Shores Healthcare in Leamington and others may need to be transferred to Chatham to take advantage of every single bed available for patients.

Dr. Wassim Saad, chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital said this is the most critical juncture heading into wave two.

“Now we’re starting to see the cases rise, but when you’re dealing with an outbreak at two of the organizations and an inability to admit patients to a particular unit,” said Saad. “Taking 90 staff members out of commission because of that outbreak. The rising rates of spread in that community, the burnout we’re seeing among out healthcare providers and our overcapacity in terms of our ICU beds.”

As hospital bed capacity deteriorates, officials say clinical teams will have no option other than to cancel scheduled surgeries and other procedures to ensure they have bed space available for emergency and other urgent cases.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases reported by the WECHU is reaching a critical point, as identified by the local medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed.

“We need to decrease the number of community cases in the region and that would automatically result in reduced pressure on the healthcare system,” said Ahmed.

A rising number of workplaces and schools are facing outbreaks. There are currently 21 outbreaks in the region.

“We do feel that there are some concerning trends and we may be in a dire position in the upcoming weeks,” said Kristin Kennedy, CEO of Erie Shores Healthcare.

Demand for COVID-19 testing continues to rise as case counts climb. The test delay time is also increasing.

“Simply put, the scenario that our Windsor-Essex region residents have seen on TV taking place in other jurisdictions around the world, where hospital resources are stretched beyond capacity, is showing signs of occurring in our area of the province,” says the memo. “Our employees and professional staff in many cases are reaching the point of exhaustion.”

Community partners –paramedics, staff at long-term care and retirement home facilities, home care providers and mental health service staff –are also feeling the strain.

Hospital officials say they know many residents “are tired” of COVID-19 and the constant messaging and restrictions, but they are urging everyone to be vigilant and to show compassion and understanding for hospital workers.