Nova Scotia

Capital Health trying to fix emergency room backlogs

Capital Health's acting CEO says people showing up at emergency rooms who need hospital care are not getting beds fast enough and as a result some patients are kept waiting in ambulances for hours.

Capital Health has put extra beds in some private rooms

Capital Health Acting CEO Barbara Hall says problems with overcrowding in emergency rooms are related to the capacity issues in the entire hospital. (CBC)

The acting CEO of Capital Health says health officials are trying to fix the ongoing backlogs in the province's largest emergency departments.

Barbara Hall says people showing up at emergency rooms needing hospital care are not getting beds fast enough. She says some emergency departments are so crowded, some patients are kept waiting in ambulances for hours.

"Clearly the capacity inside the hospital is one of the biggest factors," she says. "If every bed is full and you've got people downstairs in the emergency stretchers waiting to come upstairs for a bed, but you can't move them up, then you can't unload an ambulance and put that person into the bed."

Last week the chief of the Halifax Infirmary’s emergency department said the hospital system was overwhelmed.

Hall says the entire hospital is under strain this winter.

"It's really the people that need more care than is available in the emergency department and have to be moved on to medicine or surgery or some other service."

To cope, Hall says Capital Health has converted half a dozen single rooms to doubles in the Queen Elizabeth II hospital. She says in the future, hospitals may take that step sooner.

She also says they still need space for about a dozen people. The challenge is figuring out if hospitals require that extra space all the time or just during periods of high pressure, such as this winter.

On Monday the health department met with Capital Health, Emergency Health Services and the chair of the provincial emergency advisory committee to talk about ways to fix the problems.

The group identified six key areas to focus on, including:

  • reviewing procedures for dealing with overcapacity
  • managing patients after they leave the emergency department
  • making sure people don't go to emergency departments if they don't have to

Hall says with the flu season, the meningitis scares and the toll of the long winter on people’s mental health, it's difficult to pinpoint a single reason for the bottleneck problems.

"We thought we had a sort of a lot of the problems solved and clearly in January and February. It just kept building and building," she said. "We will do better, we've just gone through a tough time."


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