An overflow of patients has forced three services to close at Campbellton Regional Hospital, which says it is taking “extreme” measures to solve the problem.
The services — obstetrics-gynecology, surgical and outpatient clinics — are closed until further notice, the hospital’s medical management team has told staff in a letter.
The problem has been going on for several days at the northern New Brunswick hospital and has entered “a critical stage,” the letter said.
Forty-two stretchers have been serving as hospital beds because the regular beds are full.
Staff will be implementing “extreme emergency measures” over the next seven days, and the situation will be reassessed daily.
The letter described several steps the hospital is taking to deal with the problem, including:
- Diverting ambulances to other centres.
- Accepting no new admissions until further notice.
- Not allowing physicians in the community to do any direct admissions. This also applies to pending admissions.
- Transferring admissions to Bathurst when no other alternatives are present.
- Transferring orthopedic on-call coverage to Bathurst.
“We understand that this overflow is multifactorial and has a lot to do with beds being used for long-term care cases.”
‘There just aren’t any beds’
The letter went on to say the hospital is working with the Department of Social Development to try to resolve the issue.
Health Minister Ted Flemming called the situation in Campbellton a “capacity” issue.
“The place is simply full,” he said.
“It’s not different to the analogy of a hotel. It has no vacancy, there just aren’t any beds.”
Flemming said the hospital has 140 beds, and 70 are occupied by alternate level of care patients, or ALC patients, Flemming said.
ALC is a designation for patients who do not need acute care but still need help beyond what they can get at home.
“Because of the nature of the situation, they’re not able to care for themselves. Although they do not need to be in an acute care institution.”
Vitalité Health Network’s website says the Campbellton hospital has 163 beds, but the hospital carried out what it called a “reorganization” of beds during the summer, which may account for the discrepancy with the number cited by Flemming.
With New Brunswick’s aging population and people living longer, Flemming said there is greater demand on the health-care system, calling it a “grey tsunami.”
“At the same time our population is not growing at a particular rate where we can recruit the amount of people that we need.”
The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society issued a statement Thursday calling on the government to address the health-care needs of seniors outside of hospital. Dr. Chris Goodyear said otherwise these situations will continue to occur, especially with flu season approaching.
“Government must make special care and nursing home beds more readily available and streamline the patient assessment and approval process to move a senior out of hospital,” Goodyear said.
Task force launched
Vitalité CEO Gilles Lanteigne said overcrowding reached a breaking point late Tuesday night.
“We had 42 people on stretchers,” he told reporters during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “We decided that we had to plan a significant stop of activities so we could permit the staff and physicians to take a breather and do a reset.”
He said the health network will be working with local partners, including nursing homes, on a task force to monitor the situation daily.
Lanteigne said he’s “confident” the hospital can resolve the issue by Nov. 29. Until then, the “extreme” measures will remain in place.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development said its regional staff is working closely with hospital staff to find solutions.
“We are currently trying to determine whether any of the patients who are currently awaiting nursing home placement could be placed temporarily in a special care home bed,” Jean Bertin said in an email to CBC News.
“We are also looking at other options and will continue to work closely with officials at the hospital on short- and long-term solutions.”
Bertin said the 90-bed home in nearby Dalhousie is full, but at the Campbellton Nursing Home, 40 of its 100 beds were vacant as of Nov. 4. The high vacancy rate, however, is the result of a shortage of staff.
Bathurst hospital already full
Dr. Natalie Cauchon, a family physician at the Chaleur Regional Hospital, said the Bathurst hospital is already at full capacity.
The diversion of patients puts a lot of stress on doctors and nurses, who want to do everything they can to help the hospital in Campbellton.
“We’re all concerned and working hard to make sure there is nothing missed, and we’re giving the best care,” said Cauchon, who represents the Acadie-Bathurst region on the board of directors of the New Brunswick Medical Society.
“But it’s always a struggle and it’s always a risk when we’re put under that much pressure.”
Patients from Quebec
Cauchon said many of the patients hospitalized at the Campbellton hospital are from Quebec, a bridge away from the New Brunswick city. Those patients will be redirected back to facilities in Quebec.
Other patients will be redirected to St. Quentin and Bathurst, especially for labour and delivery.
Cauchon said this can be hard on expectant mothers because they’re not sure whether they will make it to the Bathurst hospital on time and because they’re separated from their families.
“That’s a lot of stress on the new mothers.”
Not just a Campbellton problem
The Chaleur Regional Hospital’s obstetrics unit also closed in 2018 and again earlier this year.
The unit was first closed in October, reopened for two weeks and then closed again in November. The unit was supposed to reopen again on Jan. 7 but was delayed another month.
“It seems to be an ongoing thing, not only in Campbellton but other hospitals are facing a reduction of services due to shortage or a lack of beds,” she said.
She said more family doctors need to be recruited for northern parts of the province and more nurses and more extramural services are required.
The New Brunswick government is aiming to add 130 nurses a year over the next 10 years under a strategy unveiled over the summer to attack the nursing shortage. The province also announced plans to bring in a bachelor of nursing bridge program for licensed practical nurses, or LPNs.