Winnipeg hospitals keeping patients in ‘non-traditional’ hallways, staff lounges due to space crunch: memo

Overwhelmed Winnipeg hospitals are moving patients into hallways and staff lounge areas as it deals with a “bed crisis,” a new memo reveals.

The document says emergency departments and urgent care centres are so starved for space that patients are being treated in “non-traditional locations.”

“While no one will claim that this is ideal, I would ask that you try to help make this work as best possible under the circumstance, as attempts are made to try to find longer term and more sustainable solutions,” said the memo to medical staff at Victoria General Hospital, which was obtained by CBC News. 

At the south Winnipeg hospital, the transfer of patients into “non-traditional locations,” which also includes putting a fifth bed into four-person rooms, is happening in stages but starting on the fourth and fifth floors. 

The patients are being taken from emergency departments and urgent care centres into other hospital wards where space can be created. The memo stressed the only patients eligible for relocation must be close to being discharged (estimated within 24 to 48 hours), fairly independent and with relatively low care needs, writes Ken Cavers, chief medical officer at the hospital.

Relocating patients an urgent response: memo

He said the health-care system is working on long-term solutions to the crush of patients they’re admitting, but said this measure is needed on an urgent basis to relieve space pressures.

Cavers said Winnipeg hospitals are dealing with a rising number of admitted patients that are taking up emergency and urgent care beds but do not need that level of care, which is hampering staff from caring for newly arriving patients.

This problem led to the new ambulance redirection policy that is moving patients to lower acuity hospitals in Winnipeg: Concordia, Seven Oaks and Victoria. It’s left those hospitals with a surge in admissions, Cavers said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority stressed that finding new areas for beds is a temporary solution. 

“These are spaces that are monitored by staff, equipped with all necessary equipment and are locations where patients who are expected to be discharged within a short period of time are being cared for until their discharge,” spokesperson Bobbi-Jo Stanley said in an email.

“We will continue to communicate with patients and staff about these moves and our plans for managing this surge. We want to assure our patients that we are balancing available staff and patient need to continue to provide safe patient care.”

Last month, the WRHA and Shared Health reported the overall median wait time at all sites increased in March, which was attributed to numerous factors, ranging from the infectiousness of COVID-19 leading to a surge in staff sick calls and high patient volumes. 

Recent data from the province suggests the wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations appears to have crested.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the memo regarding space concerns didn’t surprise her, especially as it pertains to the Victoria General Hospital, which has long had capacity issues, she said. 

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