British Columbia

Vancouver Convention Centre to become makeshift hospital during COVID-19 pandemic

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the spaces aren't required yet, but they're preparing extra room in case hospitals face an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the spaces will help non-COVID patients if hospitals fill up

The Vancouver Convention Centre will be transformed into a backup medical facility, in case hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver's waterfront convention centre will be transformed into a backup medical facility as B.C. health officials prepare for a potential influx of COVID-19 cases in hospitals.

A new tower at Royal Columbian Hospital will also become an offsite medical centre.

The announcement came from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Monday.

According to the health officials, the Vancouver Convention Centre could hold 271 patient beds, while the Royal Columbian facility has capacity for 80 beds.

The sites are not intended for COVID-19 patients, but rather could house patients who require other types of acute care, should the province experience a "dramatic increase" in numbers of COVID patients requiring hospitalization.

"People who are recovering from their heart attacks, recovering from trauma, or other injuries that brought them into the hospital, if they didn't need to be that close to the potential for critical care, we would potentially move them into offsite facility like the convention centre should we reach that point," said Henry.

At the press conference, Dix emphasized that the current occupancy in hospitals is at 60.6 per cent, and the current critical care bed occupancy is 53.7 per cent, so nobody is being moved into the convention centre this week.

Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on Monday, March 30, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"There are 4,233 empty hospital beds. So this is creating even more capacity than that, and to do that you have to prepare in advance. You can't decide two days from now you need a temporary hospital and put that together," said Dix.

"The purpose of these alternate sites is to prepare for all scenarios."

Dix said the move also shows the province's determination to ensure that people who have less serious illness or are recovering from non-COVID treatment can continue to be separated from COVID-19 patients in hospital. "And that's going to be true in all the health authorities," he said.

Last week, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth introduced emergency measures that allow the government to convert large spaces into treatment centres.

Henry also said that patients awaiting placements in other types of care are being moved out of hospitals and into long-term care facilities to make way for more COVID-19 cases.

Patients who have had scheduled surgeries are being discharged as soon as possible, she added, saying the health authority is "making sure that they have the care that they need in the community."

Dix said the Royal Columbian site is phase one of a major hospital renewal, but it won't be used as intended for now. 

"We were about to open that site for its intended purpose, which is related to mental health and addiction programs," he said.

"So we will be holding off that opening and using that site for this purpose or until it's clear we won't need it in future."

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