Nova Scotia

New beds at QEII to relieve ER pressure

Nova Scotia is spending $2 million to improve emergency patient care in the region's largest hospital, the health minister announced Tuesday.
A 12-bed integrated intermediate-care unit was opened in April for patients transitioning from critical care to other parts of the hospital. ((CBC))
Nova Scotia is spending $2 million to improve emergency patient care in the region's largest hospital, the health minister announced Tuesday.

Eight new beds opened Monday at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax to take some of the pressure off the emergency room, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said.

While the new beds are general medicine beds — and not in the emergency department — health officials said adding the beds will help ease bottlenecks in the ER and free up staff.

"On many days, the waits can be long — not only to receive care but also to be admitted to a hospital bed," Chris Power, CEO of the Capital District Health Authority, told reporters.

"To improve wait times in our emergency departments and, ultimately, the quality of care patients receive, we have to work on many areas at the same time."

MacDonald also announced the creation of a rapid assessment unit, which will open Wednesday

It will be located in the space where the QEII's emergency department used to be before it was moved to new facilities in June 2009. Both the rapid assessment unit and the ER are in the section of the QEII complex known as the Halifax Infirmary.

The assessment unit will have eight beds and will be staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight, five days a week. Some of the patients referred from other hospitals will be able to be held there for monitoring or discharged without further clogging the emergency department — which is where they currently have to wait to see specialists.

"Patients coming to Halifax for a medical consult from other hospitals across the province — and, indeed, from other parts of the Maritimes — should no longer have to go through the ER like they did previously," MacDonald told reporters at a news conference.

Dr. Sam Campbell, chief of emergency at the Halifax Infirmary, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. Behind him is Dr. Ed Kinley, the acting chair of the board of directors for the Capital District Health Authority. ((CBC))
Dr. Sam Campbell, chief of emergency at the Halifax Infirmary, said this way, patients who need to see specialists will be able to do so "without having to compete with the emergency patients."

"Our biggest issue is trying to ensure people with real emergency needs are seen as soon as possible," he told reporters. "For this, we need both staff and … treatment beds."

MacDonald also announced a third initiative, a 12-bed, integrated intermediate-care unit that opened in April. It is a place for patients who are making the transition from critical care units to other parts of the hospital.

Advisor's report expected

Tuesday's announcement comes just weeks before MacDonald is to receive a report on improving emergency rooms in the province.

Dr. John Ross, the outspoken former director of the emergency department at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, was hired last year as an adviser on emergency medicine to the provincial health department. His report is expected in a few weeks.

Chris d'Entremont, the Progressive Conservative health critic, questioned why the government didn't wait for Ross's final report before making changes to the system.

"To me, it's $100,000 — or whatever the final costs for him was — for nothing, because you're making your decisions otherwise," he said.

"The minister might stand and say, 'Well, we understand it.' Well, if you understand it, why did you hire the guy in the first place?"

D'Entremont said the $2-million investment was welcome but reckless.

Ross, who was in Toronto for a conference, told CBC News he was thrilled that the old Halifax Infirmary space was being used in a way that would improve the flow of patients in the emergency department.

"What this really does is a system improvement because the QEII — being a central sort of hub of the emergency care system — when it's not working as well as it can be, it backs up everywhere else," he said.

"I'm gratified that what we've talked about for the last few years is actually happening. I think that's great."