New Brunswick

Vitalité hospitals at 96.4% capacity, some of Horizon's at or over 100% as COVID cases spike

Vitalité Health Network's hospitals have reached 96.4 per cent capacity and the Horizon Health Network is at 93 per cent of normal capacity at its five largest hospitals Thursday as COVID-19 cases continue to break daily and overall pandemic records.

70 per cent of all intensive care beds occupied, figures show

The Moncton Hospital has 22 of 23 intensive care beds occupied, as of Wednesday. There are 134 active cases of COVID-19 in the Moncton region, Zone 1, as of Wednesday. (CBC)

The Horizon Health Network's five largest hospitals are nearing or over capacity and the Vitalité Health Network's hospitals have reached 96.4 per cent capacity Thursday, as COVID-19 cases continue to break daily and overall pandemic records in New Brunswick.

Seventy per cent of all intensive care beds across the province are occupied, the government's COVID-19 dashboard shows.

Fifty-two new cases of COVID were reported in New Brunswick on Thursday, pushing the total active case count to 574.

There are 27 people hospitalized with COVID, 12 of them in intensive care.

The province is on a trajectory to see 100 new cases a day, every day, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, has said.

The hospital system is "on bended knee," said Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society.

It was already under "great stress and strain" prior to the pandemic, he said. Now, "the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges."

New Brunswick has been fortunate to have avoided "catastrophic" numbers of cases so far, said Knight, but the experience of western Canada should serve as a warning as we enter the fourth wave.

"When we look at provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, where physicians are asking for the military to be called in, we know that those provinces are the canaries in the coal mine."

Vitalité 'alert level increase'

Vitalité announced an "alert level increase" at all of its facilities Wednesday, and new COVID-19 preventive measures aimed at "preserving the offer of care and reducing pressure on the health system."

"We must be ready to face an increase of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the days and weeks to come," president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers has said in a statement.

Vitalité wants to reduce the number of admissions to reach a maximum hospital occupancy rate of 85 per cent and "free up staff for COVID-19 patients," according to a news release.

Some services may need to be temporarily reduced, it said.

Vitalité did not immediately respond to a request for the occupancy rate at each of its hospitals and the number of beds in use by COVID patients.

Horizon's 5 largest hospitals at 93% capacity

Horizon is at 93 per cent of normal capacity at its five largest hospitals, which are the ones that care for COVID patients and have intensive care beds.

That means they have 1,247 patients for the 1,342 beds.

Here is the breakdown:

  • Moncton Hospital: 90 per cent
  • Saint John Regional Hospital: 91 per cent
  • Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital: 93 per cent
  • Upper River Valley Hospital: 110 per cent
  • Miramichi Regional Hospital: 100 per cent

There are a total of 18 COVID-related inpatients at these hospitals, said spokesperson Kris McDavid.

Of the 98 intensive care beds available, 66 are occupied. Seven are in use by COVID inpatients and 59 are in use by non-COVID inpatients, he said.

Although occupancy rates are "high" and staffing "remains a concern," Horizon is able to maintain all current services, including surgical and outpatient services, at this time, it said in a news release Wednesday.

As of the last COVID briefing Monday, hospitalizations from the respiratory disease were spread across six of the seven health zones:

The Moncton region had five patients, the Saint John region one, the Fredericton region six, the Edmundston region, seven, Campbellton region three, Bathurst region, one, and the Miramichi region none.

'Enhanced precautions'

Horizon's interim president and CEO Dr. John Dornan announced to staff, physicians and volunteers "enhanced precautions" for the fourth wave, in an internal memo obtained by CBC News.

"With the recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, particularly ICU admissions, in New Brunswick, we are closely monitoring our health care system, notably our capacity to care for urgent and emergency cases, while maintaining essential services," he wrote.

Among the changes, only fully vaccinated people will be allowed to visit Horizon's hospitals and health-care facilities. This does not apply to patients.

In addition, the guidance on the use of face masks and eye protection has been revised in response to increased COVID activity in the province.

 "All health care workers (HCWs) working in high-risk clinical settings (i.e. COVID units, ERs, all ICUs, ORs, and COVID-19 assessment centres) will wear facial protection (medical grade face mask and eye protection (goggles/face shield)) continuously, at all times when providing care for all patients," it states in bold letters, "when a physical barrier (i.e., plexiglass) is not in place to prevent transmission of droplets."

Facial protection is required when treating confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

All health care workers must also wear a medical grade face mask continuously, at all times, in all areas of their workplace when a physical barrier is not in place.

Facial protection must be immediately changed and safely disposed of whenever it is damaged, soiled/wet, and after providing care for any patient on isolation precautions.

'Not too late'

Knight said he's not an epidemiologist and he doesn't have access to projection models, but he believes it's 'not too late' to turn the COVID situation around in New Brunswick.

"We must implore our citizens who aren't vaccinated to become vaccinated from COVID-19 and do their part to protect the sanctity and safety of our provincial public health-care system."

The measures the province implemented Wednesday should also help, he said.

Masking is now mandatory in all public indoor spaces and people aged 12 and older must show proof of full vaccination and government identification to access most non-essential businesses, services and events.

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