Nova Scotia

N.S. health minister doesn't expect lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to impact strained hospitals

Nova Scotia Health says emergency rooms across the province are at limited capacity as they struggle to handle high patient volumes and staffing shortages.

Michelle Thompson says staffing pressures, including doctor and nurse shortages, have been challenging

On Monday, Nova Scotia Health advised that the QEII emergency department in Halifax was seeing "extremely high patient volumes." (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia Health says emergency rooms across the province are at limited capacity as they struggle to handle high patient volumes and staffing shortages.

On Monday, the health agency advised that the QEII emergency department in Halifax was seeing "extremely high patient volumes."

Although the emergency room continued to accept new patients, they were told the waiting room was full and any accompanying people would have to leave unless essential to their care. Patients were also told to expect long wait times.

Michelle Thompson, Nova Scotia's health minister, said similar situations are happening around the province.

Some emergency rooms have had to close on certain days due to staffing issues.

"There's a number of reasons why it's so challenging," Thompson told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Wednesday.

"Number one, we do have staffing pressures and in some areas in the province, it's related to nursing shortages and in other areas of the province, it could be related to physician shortages." 

Portia asks Michelle Thompson, provincial minister of health and wellness, about the state of emergency rooms, some of which have limited capacity and are short staffed. Plus, what the minister thinks about N.S. dropping community COVID restrictions.

She said a high vacancy rate among health-care workers and lack of access to primary care has also contributed to the delay, as people use emergency rooms for "assessments of chronic disease and complex care needs."

"We've been working hard at increasing primary care options throughout the province to support people in getting access outside of the emergency room," she said.

Minister of Health and Wellness Minister responsible for the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment (Robert Short/CBC)

Thompson said she doesn't want anyone to be discouraged to visit the emergency room if in need of immediate care, but if possible, people are asked to make an appointment with a primary-care provider, visit a walk-in clinic or talk to a pharmacist where appropriate.

Province lifts all COVID-19 restrictions

Meanwhile, the province has officially lifted all remaining community COVID-19 restrictions as of Wednesday. This includes mandatory isolation for people who test positive for the virus.

Thompson said she doesn't expect the lifting of restrictions to have any further effect on emergency rooms, especially since the province has a high vaccination rate.

She also said hospitalization rates from COVID have been stabilizing over the last few weeks. According to the latest numbers from Nova Scotia Health, as of June 30 there were 207 people in hospital with COVID-19:

  • There were 21 people hospitalized due to their COVID-19 symptoms. Three of those patients were in ICU beds
  • A further 122 people were hospitalized for another reason, but tested positive for COVID-19
  • A further 64 patients contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.

"We've had a slow and cautious approach to easing restrictions over the spring. It has been gradual," she said. 

"In speaking with the experts in public health, we don't feel that it is inevitable that we will have an increase in hospitalizations or people seeking medical care as a result of it, but we do encourage people to stay home if they're sick and symptomatic."

Cases are rising with the emergence of new COVID variants. At the same time, the Province is lifting all remaining COVID restrictions, including isolation requirements. To talk about how to stay safe this summer, we're joined by infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett.

Province working to recruit and retain

Thompson said she understands that health-care workers across the province are tired. She said the province is working to recruit more workers but it also wants to retain those already in place.

She said to do that, the province wants to give staff as much rest as possible over the summer. 

"It's going to be an incremental moving forward with these positive changes and I wish it was as easy as waving a wand. Believe me, there'd be no one that would wave it quicker or harder than I would," she said.

"But I do want to assure Nova Scotians we are working so hard across the system to address the issues that are facing us in this province and we're learning from our counterparts across the country, and we're implementing innovative ideas to address some of the pressures that we're experiencing."

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia

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