The new hospital opened in October 2017. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Comox Valley hospital over capacity, under-staffed

178 patients admitted into the 129-bed facility in a single day; 4th floor being used to store files

Six months after first opening its doors, the North Island Hospital Comox Valley campus is still operating above its patient capacity.

And according to the Hospital Employees Union, it’s putting a strain on the new facility’s staff.

The $332-million facility has a capacity of 129 care beds, with a further 24 beds that can be phased in.

But due to the Valley’s high health-care demands, the new hospital has regularly experienced an overflow of patients since it opened. On March 22, the hospital admitted 178 patients.

Jennifer Whiteside, an executive with the Hospital Employees Union, said union members have told her the capacity issues are causing employees to be overworked.

“The core staffing of the hospital is based on 129 beds. If the hospital is chronically in a situation where they have many more patients than that, it means there is a real chronic workload problem across all levels of the hospital,” she said.

“Our members feel the effects of that workload very acutely, and there is no plan in place by [Island Health] to ensure that the workload issues are dealt with in a systematic way.”

Furthermore, Whiteside noted a wing on the fourth floor is being used for office space and storage rather than patient care, despite being designed for that purpose.

“It’s housing the health records division at the moment,” she said. “At the same time, there are patients in rooms in other parts of the hospital that weren’t designed to house patients.”

In a statement on March 22, Island Health acknowledged the high patient volumes at Courtenay’s new hospital, claiming the average patient occupancy between mid-October and the end of January was 110 per cent.

The statement said the hospital’s high patient volumes are due to “a variety of factors,” including seasonal illness, the Valley’s aging population causing a higher demand for acute care services, and the impact of moving into a new and larger facility.

“It should be noted that over-capacity is not unique to the North Island Hospital. In fact, hospitals across Island Health and throughout North America experience over-capacity,” reads the statement, adding that patient occupancy fluctuates throughout the day.

“When these surges in patient volumes occur, temporary overflow patient care areas are opened and all patients are cared for in appropriate care spaces and with appropriate staffing levels.”

Island Health also claimed a number of measures are underway to alleviate capacity issues, including ensuring appropriate staffing levels, enhancing community supports to prevent hospital admission when possible, and increasing home care visits.

But Whiteside, who met with union members and toured the facility last week, says that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“There’s no evidence that our members are experiencing an improvement,” she said. “They’re continuing to really struggle and I think the fact there were 178 patients in the facility [last] Friday is an indicator that things are not improving.”

The Island Health board will hold its monthly meeting in Courtenay on Thursday, March 29. The meeting is open to the public and takes place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the Crown Isle Resort ballroom.

The new hospital’s capacity and staffing issues, as well as other concerns like the ongoing lack of a certified helipad and the Comox Valley’s shortage of long-term care beds, will likely be points of interest.

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