It started off like any other day at Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, but Friday became a day that staff at the small-town community hospital would never forget.
The call about a serious head-on collision came in at around 2 p.m.
“We received a phone call stating that there was something called a Code Orange, which really means there are mass casualities coming into the hospital,” said the hospital’s chief of staff, Michael Lisi.
“It’s something that no one has seen around here — quite unheard of, especially for a community hospital.”
Paramedics arrived to the scene of a crash on Highway 26 near Stayner, where a van carrying eight people had collided with a coach bus. Two adults, a teen and five children in the van were all seriously injured and some of them were left in life-threatening condition.
“It was overwhelming and devastating for sure,” said Simcoe County paramedic Stephen Trafford.
“All the patients involved had some degree of serious injury, whether it was multiple fractures or head injuries.”
Paramedics transported the first two victims to the small Collingwood hospital within 10 minutes of getting the call. And whether they were ready for it or not, the doctors and nurses on duty would have to perform some of the most complicated procedures of their careers to keep all eight victims alive until air ambulances were ready to take the patients to Toronto.
READ MORE: 2 adults, 6 children in serious condition after bus and van crash head-on in central Ontario
“To only have 10 minutes to prepare and then bang, bang, bang, having all eight… it was incredible,” said Norah Holder, the hospital’s president.
Lisi said the atmosphere was tense given the situation.
“It’s very charged, emotionally charged when you have children involved,” he said.
Kathy Maecker, who was working at the hospital that day, said she has never seen a code orange in her 35 years working as a registered nurse.
“It was an incredible sight — unbelievable — something I hope I never see again,” she said.
“It was organized chaos, lots of people, but there was no small role. Everybody played an important, key role.”
Anesthetist Jesse Guscott said the call went out to have all hands on deck.
“We’re cobbling together people who are on call, people who are in the hospital, people who are at home, people who are on the ski hill, people who are in Toronto, people who are coming in from everywhere, to try and help out,” he said.
Collingwood General and Marine Hospital has a total of 68 beds, compared to Toronto General Hospital which has six times that amount. It also serves a relatively small population, with 60,000 permanent residents living within the town’s border. The facility has limited resources and equipment available, which meant the hospital had to lean on nearby communities and neighbouring medical clinics for help.
“We called them for blood, for accessibility to getting other items, such as ventilators,” said Lisi.
“We were running out of those items because of the sheer number of individuals that were here and those items are essential for our patients.”
The eight victims were flown to various trauma centres in Toronto by air ambulance three hours after arriving in Collingwood, leaving hospital staff to catch their breath.
Those same doctors and nurses who gave their all that day are now receiving kudos from medical professionals across the province, including the CEO of the Hospital for Sick Children.
“[The CEO] commended us because the patients arrived in very, very good condition,” said Holder.
The families of the victims have reached out to the staff at the Collingwood hospital as well to thank them for saving the lives of their loved ones.
But the small medical team in the lakeside Ontario town said they were just doing their jobs.
“There was no one particular hero,” said Maecker.
“It was an incredible team effort”
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