Health Minister Adrian Dix says as many as 1,800 patients could be moved out of British Columbia hospitals should the province see a “worst case scenario” involving surges of both influenza and COVID-19 in the coming months.
Dix made the comments as the province laid out its immunization and contingency plans for the fall, noting that the southern hemisphere has been hit with a historically bad flu season.
The province has projected that COVID-19 hospitalizations could more than double in the coming months, and that B.C. could also see as many as 1,200 simultaneous influenza hospitalizations.
“We’re planning bed management to support bed availability based on moderate to high projections,” Dix said.
“Of the currently admitted patients, approximately 1,300 of them could be cared for in the community and 500 are awaiting care home placements. Patients are being identified now for potential transfer to the community, reducing hospitalization in case the 500 to 800 beds are needed.”
Dix pointed to the recently refurbished New Vista care home in Burnaby as one of several that had capacity around the province.
The province is also planning for how to support patients who are discharged into the community who still need care, he said.
B.C. has also set up a bed management task group focused on “emergency department efficiency, hospital access and flow,” which will see bed management teams work seven days a week to optimize in-patient beds.
The unions representing both B.C. hospital workers and nurses said they were blindsided by the proposal.
“We know that the entire system is under a lot of stress right now,” Hospital Employees Union spokesperson Mike Old told Global News.
“Our members who work in the health-care system are struggling to make sure patients and residents get the care they deserve. So we’d really like to see some more details about how government thinks they’re going to accomplish this. ”
Old said care homes are already understaffed and over filled, and said the province had provided no details on the complex task of discharging people into the community for care at home.
B.C. Nurses’ Union President Aman Grewal echoed those concerns.
“Where they’re moving them to? (is) what I would like to know. And who’s going to look after them?” Grewal asked.
Grewal said there is already a shortage of community nurses, who would be expected to take on the additional strain of providing care to patients discharged to their homes. Family members, too, she said would also likely be left shouldering the burden.
She also questioned the availability of spaces and staffing in care homes.
“If there’s 500 beds that are available to move patients out let’s do that and free up the acute care system to be able to function more efficiently because we have overcapacity in all of our facilities,” she said.
“And then where are the care providers that are going to be looking after these 500 extra patients that are going to be coming in to these facilities because they’re already working short.”
Grewal said the province had not consulted with nurses on the proposal.
The hospital bed planning was just one part of the province’s preparations for the winter respiratory illness season.
Officials also laid out plans Wednesday to roll out COVID-19 booster doses at the same time as flu vaccines, starting after the Thanksgiving holiday.