Preparing for patient influx: capacity issues at hospitals expected this winter

Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ont is looking at all of its options ahead of a potential surge in demand over the winter. Hospitals across Ontario say there could be a capacity crisis during flu season if the provincial government doesn't take action.

'We would always prefer to take care of patients within an appropriate setting .. but not possible right now.'


Health Sciences North (HSN) is expecting a surge in demand over the winter.

That's why the hospital in Sudbury, Ont., is looking at all of its options ahead of that influx of patients, which could mean a capacity crisis.

All hospitals across the province are urging the government to take action before flu season strikes.

Health minister Eric Hoskins said on Wednesday the province is looking at using old hospital sites as temporary facilities for patient care in cities such as Toronto.

However, in Sudbury a solution will be more complicated, says David McNeil, the vice president of patient services for HSN.

"We have no old hospital to open in Sudbury."

"The former Memorial site is fully occupied right now, and we're using it for important ambulatory clinics to actually prevent people from being hospitalized," McNeil says.

HSN is working with the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to find different solutions to overcapacity.

"It may not be an ideal setting, but the patient care will be delivered to a high standard and it will be safe care," McNeil says.

"We would always prefer to take care of patients within an appropriate setting, like a patient care room, but that's not possible right now."

There are currently 22 patients at HSN in what McNeil calls "unconventional bed space," that may include lounges or hallways.

Short term solutions

The issue is spread out across the region says Marc Demers, a director with the North East LHIN. He says hospitals in northeastern Ontario don't have the same scale of overcapacity as Toronto.

Hospitals in smaller communities in the region don't experience overcapacity or pressure the same way larger centres, like Sudbury or North Bay do, Demers says.

"We have hospitals within the northeast that don't utilize all their space and they could quickly have beds up and running."

"For us [northeast], we need almost a scale that's spread out for the hospitals that have the most pressure, like HSN, or Sault Area Hospital, or North Bay Regional Health Centre."

The LHIN is in discussion with the ministry to temporarily fund extra beds to get through the winter, however Demers says adding more hospital beds is a temporary solution to a crisis situation.

"It's definitely high on our priority list in terms of trying to address any opportunity."

With files from Robin De Angelis