AMHERST – There’s no room at the inn.
Officials with the Cumberland Health Authority are dealing with a very “stressful” situation at the area’s regional hospital where almost all the medical beds are being used by patients awaiting placement in alternate level care.
“The problems that our emergency room at the regional site are experiencing are not unique to Cumberland County,” health authority CEO Bruce Quigley said. “Similar problems are being felt across the province.”
Quigley said on Monday there were 10 patients awaiting admission to the hospital, but there are no beds available. The hospital, he said, has opened up extra beds to handle the demand and staff are coping.
“Of the 35 beds in the medical unit, 31 are occupied by patients awaiting placement or palliative care. We only have four acute-care patients in that unit,” Quigley said. “It’s a very stressful situation for the patients and for the service providers and one we’re working diligently to overcome. We’re trying to do what we can.”
Quigley said at one time last week, the hospital’s ambulatory care unit was used for four patients.
“It’s not an optimal situation to have patients in the corridor of the emergency room. We recognize that and we’re working as diligently as possible with our health-care partners to work our way through this,” Quigley said.
The province has come under heat from both opposition parties for refusing to build more long-term care facilities. Last week, Conservative Health critic Chris d’Entremont said the government is failing to address one of the root causes of widespread ER closures.
“Hospitals are struggling to keep beds open for emergency or inpatient care because of the incredibly high number of long-term care patients waiting in hospitals for placement,” d’Entremont said. “Our seniors deserve better treatment than they’re getting from the NDP.”
He said in September 2012, the wait list for a long-term care bed was 2,228 – a 50 per cent increase since 2009.
Instead, the province is placing more emphasis on home care services, including a recent $22-million investment to improve and expand home care services. Part of that is providing $2 million to health authorities to develop supports for seniors and low-income individuals who can’t fulfill the activities of daily living.
Quigley agrees that long-term care institutions are not the only answer.
“We recognize the real pressures quite frankly are not going to be alleviated by building a few hundred more long-term care beds,” he said. “That’s not going to solve the problem. We need to change the current mindset of the public that time in a hospital and ultimately placement in a nursing home are the only recourse for those who need extra help.”
The change in thinking needs to focus on providing more options to keep people at home, he said. That can be accomplished by continuing care co-ordinators working with patients and their families to access all the home-care options that are available.
“Some of those could be as simple was shoveling driveways and getting groceries or making alterations to your home so you can get out of bed and into the bathroom and look after the day to day functions without having to go into a hospital or nursing home,” he said.