British Columbia

Hospital staff advised to consider hotel rooms for some patients to help free up bed space

A memo citing capacity issues in a Vancouver Island hospital and advising staff to consider hotel rooms for patients is specifically for those who no longer need acute care, health officials say, to help make room for patients who require medical attention.

Hospital capacity continues to be a challenge as COVID, toxic drug crisis continue, says B.C. Health Minister

A paramedic is pictured at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. in January 2022. In Victoria, hospital staff have been advised to consider the use of hotel rooms and other measures for some patients, as capacity issues continue as a result of the pandemic and the toxic drug crisis, health officials say. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Health officials say that an internal memo citing hospital capacity issues leaked to the press was misunderstood and that the public shouldn't be worried.

As first reported by the Capital Daily in Victoria, an internal memo was circulated informing staff at Victoria General Hospital of an "overcensus situation" and advising them to consider utilizing hotel rooms.

The memo, obtained independently by CBC, says acute care sites are specifically facing that crisis. Island Health says the directive is for those sites, but does not impact those seeking acute care — rather, it's for those who have received care and need a place to stay during the interim.

In an emailed statement, the health authority clarified that while hospitals are "extremely busy," they are prepared to care for anyone who requires medical attention. 

"There is not and never was a plan to put hospital patients requiring acute care in hotel rooms," the statement said. 

Island Health says it occasionally uses hotel rooms for people who don't need acute care but whose living situations are not safe, for example, someone who is homeless or waiting for a bed in another facility. 

The memo also suggested other measures hospital staff could take to expedite the discharge process, including overtime hours and bringing in leaders to assist, in order to create more space for acute care patients in the hospital.

During a media scrum, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that memo was intended specifically for rehab coordinators who facilitate discharge, to remind them of those options. 

"It doesn't happen that we send people who need acute care to hotel rooms. It wouldn't happen. It wouldn't make sense that it would happen," Dix told reporters. 

Saanich Peninsula Hospital was on ambulance diversion — where patients being transported by an ambulance are diverted to another hospital nearby — for 45 minutes on April 24, however the emergency room remained open for walk-in patients, according to the health authority. No other information about why this happened or how it was resolved was provided. 

Dix said hospital capacity continues to be a challenge as the pandemic and the toxic drug crisis continue. Last week's COVID numbers showed hospitalizations had increased by 33 per cent compared to the week before. 

Criticism of numbers reporting

As of April 21, 485 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 38 in intensive care, according to the B.C. COVID-19 dashboard.

After two years of daily reporting of hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19, the province switched to releasing information on Thursdays three weeks ago. 

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau criticized the government's move to weekly COVID-19 reporting during question period on Tuesday following the publication of the Capital Daily's article, saying she would prefer to learn about hospital capacity issues from the government as opposed to through media reports.

"It is very important to have transparency and to provide a proper assessment of the circumstances in our public health care system today," Dix said in response. 

With files from Madeline Green

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