Health officials say they're making progress on Thunder Bay Regional hospital's backlog since Jan. 11 when they announced steps to free up inpatient beds.

The head of the North West Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) said staff has been working hard to transfer alternate level of care (ALC) patients — those who no longer need to be in the hospital, but can't be discharged until care is available in the community. 

"We certainly have moved several individuals to long-term care beds," Tuija Puiras said.

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Tuija Puiras with the North West Community Care Access Centre says it’s a good thing to be able to make health care decisions from home. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

But it’s not because they've suddenly found new long-term care spaces in the community, she said. It's a question of who gets the limited beds that already exist. And right now, it’s patients coming from the hospital. 

"It's just a matter of priority because, basically ... other people unfortunately end up waiting," Puiras said.

"We have individuals waiting in the community."

She noted last fall's closure of Thunder Bay's Interim Long-Term Care Centre has worsened the situation.

Patients in hotels?

When health officials got together to discuss easing the hospital bed shortage, they even considered putting patients in a hotel.

Tuija Puiras of the Community Care Access Centre said it was just one of many ideas that were put on the table.

However, Puiras said a hotel room is unlikely to be suitable for patients requiring an alternate level of care.

To free up hospital beds, the CCAC aims to find other destinations for alternate level of care (ALC) patients.

As of Jan. 17, 54 ALC patients were occupying acute-care beds at Thunder Bay Regional Hospital — down from more than 80 patients when the hospital called for urgent action last week.

"To some degree, we predicted it and are living it now," she said.

"There's a number of beds ...  taken out of... circulation."

Puiras noted providing more home care is another way the CCAC is relieving the hospital backlog — so patients can go back to where they live, whether that may be in a retirement home, a supportive housing unit, or their own homes.

To get a head start on arranging the care they'll need when they leave hospital, community care staff members are meeting patients earlier during their hospital stay — even in the emergency room.

Puiras said normally her staff members don't meet patients to talk about transferring to community care until later in their hospital stay.

"[Now] we are ... partnering with the Thunder Bay Regional to be having those conversations and assisting people to start thinking about what they might need when they leave the hospital," she said.