British Columbia

Kamloops hospital operating at 30 per cent overcapacity, health minister confirms

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the flu season — which went later than expected this year — has caused congestion in the province's hospitals, particularly at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Hospital surgeon says patients are being put in hallways and medical staff is overloaded

A surgeon at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops says congestion is causing surgery delays. (Associated Press)

In recent weeks, Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops has been operating at up to 130 per cent capacity, with patients being placed in hallways and medical staff feeling overloaded, according to a surgeon at the hospital.

"On Thursday [May 5] we were about 128 or 130 per cent capacity, and what that means is there's about 60 extra patients that we don't have room for, stacked into places that … the fire marshal let us put them," said Sean Gorman, a surgeon at the hospital.

Gorman told host Shelley Joyce on Daybreak Kamloops that they've had to improvise finding places to put patients after they've had an operation, as the post-operative areas and day care surgery areas have been "so full of patients that needed to be in hospital."

Lack of space, lots to do

Gorman said the the congestion has caused some delays in surgeries being performed.

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops is at 30 per cent over capacity. (Interior Health Authority)

"Sometimes we have so much to do that somebody that would like to get into the operating room within three hours isn't going in within six," he said, adding that on one day last week they couldn't do a joint surgery that was planned.

"That's problematic because joint surgery and replacing joints is linked to how we're funded."

Overcrowding linked to flu season

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake told Daybreak Kamloops that flu season usually causes congestion in hospitals around the province at certain times of the year, but said this year's strain struck later this year than most years — which was unforeseen.

B.C. Health Ministry Terry Lake says the late flu season contributed to the overcrowding at the hospital in Kamloops. (CBC)

"Up until the middle of April we were still seeing a lot of flu which was leading to overcrowding in emergency departments," Lake said.

"We seem to be coming through that now and it is settling down, but Royal Inland in particular has been seeing very high capacities. It's not unusual to have a hospital running at 100 per cent or 105 per cent, but this year Royal Inland … was up to 125 and 130 per cent in some cases."

Lake said that site administrators at Royal Inland ensure that those patients who are ready to go home are discharged as early as possible, and that those who can be moved to residential care and other programs are moved to "free up space for the flow that's coming in through the front door."

Temporary and long-term solutions

"In hospitals and acute care, everything is about flow, and if something bottles up in one part of that flow it backs up the system and you experience congestion everywhere," he said.

"Sometimes you have to use ... hallways temporarily while you are looking for congestion to be relieved."

Lake said the health ministry is exploring longer-term solutions to reduce congestion and prevent it from happening in the first place, such as providing more primary care in the community, increased residential care spaces, and having operations in private surgical centres, but paid for by the public system.

He also added that construction is nearing completion for a new clinical surgical services building at Royal Inland Hospital which will open later this summer, which will help free up space.

Royal Inland Hospital surgeon Gormon said he is not worried about medical staff making mistakes because of the overcrowding, but said "what puts them at risk is having more to do than they're equipped to do."

"That's where you're forced to make compromises ... and that's where our administrators have to move people around to make room because there isn't really room to do everything that really needs to be done."

With files from CBC's Daybreak Kamloops

To hear the full interview with Minister Terry Lake listen to the audio labelled: Kamloops hospital operating 30 per cent over capacity, Health Minister confirms