Nova Scotia

Halifax Infirmary ER overcrowding 'demoralizing' says chief

The chief of Nova Scotia's largest emergency department says a bad year for the flu has contributed to a "demoralizing" situation of overcrowding at the Halifax Infirmary's ER.

Number of lab confirmed flu cases has tripled compared to this time last year

Dr. Samuel Campbell says an increased number of patients — and sicker patients — are clogging up the system and there's no quick fix. (CBC)

The chief of Nova Scotia's largest emergency department says a bad year for the flu has contributed to a "demoralizing" situation of overcrowding at the Halifax Infirmary's ER.

Dr. Samuel Campbell says an increased number of patients — and sicker patients — are clogging up the system and there's no quick fix. The problem has manifested in the emergency department but it's really the entire hospital system that is overwhelmed, he said.

"A little bit like if your sink blocked up," said Campbell.

"If it was the pipe in the basement that blocked up, it's not the sink that's the problem, it's the pipe in the basement that's the problem. But you notice the problem in the sink because everything backs up into your kitchen."

Campbell said hospital staff aren't going to stop trying to fix the problem, but called it "quite demoralizing at this stage."

At one point on Monday, he said the emergency department had 13 ambulances waiting to deliver patients with nowhere to take them. When Campbell started a shift at noon on Monday, the first patient he saw had been in an ambulance hallway since 4 a.m.

"The other thing, of course, is that that ambulance crew had been tied up since four in the morning so they weren't out picking up people who needed to be brought to hospital," said Campbell.

"So there's major problems with the availability of ambulances."

Flu cases triple

A bad year for the flu has contributed to the overcrowding issues. Campbell said staff knew they would see an increase in influenza cases this year, but still weren't ready for the onslaught.

"There's been a bad flu epidemic, which we knew was coming, yet the preparation for it was basically to try and do what we've been doing but doing it harder," Campbell said Monday.

The number of lab confirmed influenza cases in Nova Scotia has nearly tripled this year, compared to the same time last year.

The most recent flu statistics available from the province were released last week. The report says there have been 456 lab confirmed cases of influenza this flu season as of Feb. 25 — or the eighth week of the year. 

By the eighth week of 2014, there were 129 lab confirmed cases for the flu season in Nova Scotia.

Lab confirmed cases are, by the Department of Health's own account, "only the 'tip of the iceberg,' representing a fraction of individuals infected."

The department reserves laboratory testing for patients admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection.

"Because we do not routinely test community specimens, the number of laboratory confirmed cases is an underestimation of the true number of infections," according to the province's flu report.

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