Nova Scotia

Ambulance offload times jumped at many N.S. hospitals this summer

Many of Nova Scotia's regional hospitals saw major increases this summer in the amount of time it took paramedics to turn their patients over to hospital staff and return to the road, with the province's largest emergency department experiencing waits of almost seven hours.

It's taking longer for paramedics to transfer patients into the care of hospital staff

The reasons for delays in paramedics being able to transfer their patients to hospital staff can include staff shortages within emergency departments, a lack of in-patient beds and not enough long-term care spaces. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Many of Nova Scotia's regional hospitals saw major increases this summer in the amount of time it took paramedics to turn their patients over to hospital staff and return to the road, with the province's largest emergency department experiencing waits of almost seven hours.

Patient offload data for each month since February, released by Nova Scotia Health, show notable jumps at a number of hospitals for July and the first three weeks of August, the most recent time period available as of last week.

At South Shore Regional Hospital, the month leading up to Aug. 21 saw an average offload time of 121 minutes, at Colchester-East Hants Health Centre it was 201 minutes, the Cobequid Community Health Centre was 244 minutes, Dartmouth General was 185 minutes and the Halifax Infirmary was 403 minutes.

Yarmouth Regional Hospital saw a marked increase in August (71 minutes), although overall its numbers remain lower than most hospitals.

Since the release in March of a comprehensive report on the provincial ambulance system, monthly statistics on offload times have been going to the health minister's office.

While the benchmark is that patients are transferred to hospital staff within 30 minutes 90 per cent of the time upon arrival, the data shows what has long been known: Many hospitals are nowhere near meeting the benchmark.

Staffing an issue in a variety of areas

Only Cumberland Regional, the Aberdeen in New Glasgow and St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish were without major spikes from February through the first three weeks of August.

Mike Nickerson, business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727 representing paramedics, said the numbers aren't a surprise. He said call volumes have been up in recent months, coinciding with staffing challenges among the ranks of paramedics.

But staffing issues aren't restricted to paramedics. A vacancy rate of about 20 per cent among nurses and shortages of other employees within hospitals has made it difficult at times to move patients through the system, something made even more challenging by the demands COVID-19 is placing on some sites.

The issue is compounded by the number of people taking up in-patient beds while they await a long-term care placement. That situation has been exacerbated in recent months by some long-term care homes holding vacant beds open because they face their own staff shortages.

Department says efforts continue

A spokesperson for the Health Department said in a statement that efforts continue to address patient access to the system and the way patients flow through the system once they are in the care of hospital staff.

As of Oct. 1, coverage for a partial transition team working at the QEII Health Sciences Centre emergency department in Halifax was extended from 12 hours to 24 hours per day. Full implementation of the program is expected in December, with the aim of helping receive patients from paramedics and get ambulances back on the road and into service sooner.

Meanwhile, a pilot patient transfer program for non-clinical cases already in the system is ongoing.

Attached below is a look at how long it takes 90 per cent of the time for patients to be offloaded at hospitals around the province.

MORE TOP STORIES

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now