Nova Scotia

N.S. acute care beds beyond capacity as COVID-19 continues to spread

Surging case numbers of COVID-19 are stretching Nova Scotia’s hospitals to the point there are now more patients than there are available acute care beds.

Health authority says its acute care bed occupancy rate as of Tuesday was running at 106 per cent

A nurse attends to a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital, in Toronto, in January. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Surging case numbers of COVID-19 are stretching Nova Scotia's hospitals to the point that there are now more patients than there are available acute care beds.

Nova Scotia's health authority confirmed its acute care bed occupancy rate as of Tuesday was running at 106 per cent. The numbers fluctuate daily, but there were 1,712 acute care beds and 1,815 patients provincewide.

A spokesperson said those 103 patients needing care would be in other parts of the hospital, like the emergency department, waiting for a bed to open up.

Acute care is defined by the health authority as in-patient medical, surgical, intensive care, obstetrics and pediatric nursing services.

Dr. Nicole Boutilier, vice-president of medicine for Nova Scotia Health, said staff have been busy creating new spaces for high-acuity patients in other hospital units.

Dr. Nicole Boutilier is the vice-president of medicine for Nova Scotia Health. (CBC)

"Occasionally … as people are being discharged and people are being admitted would go to a hallway. But that's like a last resource if we've maximized all our other spaces."

Boutilier said the pressure on the system means some people may wait in the emergency department longer than they may wish.

"But the teams are ready," she said. "The teams are doing everything they can to create as much capacity in the system as they can to make sure people are getting the timely care they need."

There were 325 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in health authority hospitals Tuesday, one of the highest numbers reported during the Omicron wave.

Of those, 61 were in hospital due to COVID-19, while the remainder were admitted due to COVID-19 but no longer needed specialized care, were admitted for other reasons but tested positive, or contracted the virus in hospital.

Ten of the patients were listed as being in intensive care.

After relatively limited spread of the virus early on in the pandemic, the province has been recording record numbers of new cases in the past several weeks. It reported an average of 1,152 infections per day in its last weekly update.

Fourteen deaths were also reported.

The number of health-care workers who are off the job due to the virus is also continuing to have an impact. The health authority said throughout the province Tuesday there were 450 employees who were unable to work.

Staff are being redeployed to areas they're most needed, but in spite of that measure some beds are being closed off as a result of those challenges.

Some surgeries are also being postponed at a time the health authority was attempting to catch up on a backlog that was caused by the pandemic. However, as many procedures as possible are still being done under the circumstances.

Boutilier said in January, surgeries were reduced to 50 per cent of normal levels, and increased to 95 per cent in March.

"Right now, it's very dependent on our actual resources in the actual community where services are being delivered," she said. "So we're watching carefully every day and trying to do as many as we possibly can in every location that we can. And at times, places would need to slow down in order to make room for the acute care patients coming in."

The ICU system is more manageable, running at 90.7 per cent as of Tuesday. Overall occupancy for the province's hospitals was at 99.4 percent.

The health authority said its emergency services at regional sites remain a top priority and people who need emergency care should not hesitate to visit, although they may have to be prepared for longer waits.

With a file from Tom Murphy

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