BARRIE, ONT. -- Health officials at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) report the third wave has been very different than the first and second, calling the situation "dire."

"This has been a punishing third wave," said RVH president and CEO Janice Skot. "The crisis is real. The crisis is here," she added.

The Barrie hospital has admitted over 60 patients from overwhelmed GTA hospitals in just the past two weeks, Skot noted.

"These are tough days," Skot said. "Unfortunately, they may get tougher."

To keep up with the demand, the hospital is adding 19 critical care beds. Skot said staff are currently utilizing three COVID units and the 70-bed field hospital to deal with the influx of patients.

Lauren Gallagher is a nurse at RVH who said the situation has been gruelling. "This has been the hardest year of my career." Gallagher said she and her team are riddled with "anxiety, worry and stress" that is impossible not to carry home after a shift.

At eight months pregnant, Gallagher said the patient-to-nurse ratio is overwhelming. "I'm feeling it personally," she admitted. "We're scared. We're emotionally exhausted. It's just a lot of emotions right now."

Health officials caution that the disease can infect anyone anywhere. "This disease is like Russian roulette," described Dr. Chris Martin, RVH critical care medical director. "Some patients feel regret because they weren't more careful," he added.

"The community needs to take part in this. Wear a mask. Stay safe. Stay home," Gallagher added.

To help alleviate the pressures on fatigued hospital staff and capacity, the Ontario government announced hospitals would be able to transfer patients waiting for a long-term care bed to any nursing home without consent to free up space for incoming COVID-19 patients.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said transfers would only be done in the most urgent situations under the newly amended Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

"Hundreds of individuals in hospital are waiting to be discharged to a long-term care home or another more appropriate care setting, and first priority will be given to patients with less complex care needs and those who are able to be moved close to their preferred choice," Elliott said Wednesday.

The province has been under a lockdown order for much of April after record numbers of infections pushed Ontario's hospital system to the limit.