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Significant increase in patient volumes forces hospital to open additional beds

Hospital management are encouraging members of the public to get a flu shot to reduce additional pressure on emergency department
20160202 Guelph General Hospital Emergency KA
File photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Although the hospital has been facing a shortage of in-patient beds, it hasn’t had to resort to placing patients in the hallways of their in-patient areas, said Michelle Bott, senior director for Patient Services.

“There is a bit more of a delay to get patients into an in-patient bed, but we have not been in a position where we have not been able to offer a bed,” said Bott.

In response to a significant increase in patient volumes, Guelph General Hospital has opened an additional 12 in-patient beds to meet the demand.

Bott said in years past the hospital has faced a shortage of available in-patient beds on a seasonal basis, but this year they haven’t seen the number of patients being admitted returning to expected levels. 

“We see this kind of surge, for example, in our winter months or in a flu season. This year we have seen it just stay. It really hasn’t gone back to the level that it has historically,” she said.

The issue, said Bott, is that patients who are being admitted to the hospital this year have been more sick are are staying longer.

“It’s not a particular type of illness or disease, we are just finding a lot more complexity of care needs. It doesn’t seem to be related to a specific type of illness,” said Bott.

Hospital statistics for the first six months of the fiscal year showed a ’significant increase’ in patient volumes.

The hospital’s fiscal year begins in April.

The average amount of ‘Patient Days’, the number of days patients are admitted, has gone up nine per cent over the same period last year.

Over the same amount of time, the number of in-patient cases went up seven per cent and emergency department visits rose by four per cent.

In response, the hospital received $400,000 from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in November to temporarily open an additional 6.6 in-patient beds to help alleviate the shortage.

The hospital is kicking in the additional funds needed to have 12 additional in-patient beds available, said Bott.

“We have been able to convert some areas we would normally use for out-patient services to in-patient rooms,” said Bott.

The province's funding is intended to run until Mar. 31, 2018.

Additionally, St. Joseph’s Health Centre has received interim funding to support the operation of nine transitional beds starting Nov. 15 to Mar. 31, 2018.

Those beds at St. Joseph’s are intended to be used by patients waiting to move to another type of facility after hospitalization, like a long-term care home.

Bott said those changes have made an immediate impact.

“We have seen some better patient flow that is allowing us to have the patients with high-acuity medical needs here in the hospital and patients who no longer need to be in the hospital have been able to move into those beds in St. Joe’s,” said Bott.

Members of the public can help alleviate some of the pressures on the emergency room by getting a flu shot and ensuring they have enough medications over the holidays, said Bott.

“What concerns us a little is we are expecting flu season to come on us likely in the next few weeks. Then we will have that additional surge pressure on top of this baseline need that we have seen,” she said.

Bott notes after hours clinics and family doctors may also be open over the holidays and should be considered first for non-emergency situations.

“This would help the hospital greatly so we can keep our care focused on patients who are quite ill and need admission to hospital,” said Bott.