New care unit in Dartmouth may help ease hospital backlogs caused by COVID

CBC

Measures are being taken to free up hospital beds in Nova Scotia as health officials prepare for more COVID-19 cases while also trying to clear a backlog of surgeries and other services caused by the pandemic.

Nova Scotia Health has partnered with Northwood in converting two floors of a Dartmouth hotel to accommodate 50 people currently occupying hospital beds while awaiting long-term care accommodations or home care.

The temporary community transition unit will be staffed by Northwood continuing care personnel and “adapted to support patients’ care needs,” the health authority said in a statement. 

It said 150 people are waiting to transition back into their communities from hospitals in the central health zone, which includes Halifax.

The temporary community transition unit will be located in Dartmouth and staffed by Northwood personnel. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Katherine Connell, site lead at the Halifax Infirmary, said the transition unit will ease the strain on hospitals and help them deal with backlogs caused by the pandemic. 

“We shut down a lot of our services, so that does create a wait list for surgeries and for people that are needing medical interventions,” she said.

“By moving these individuals out of acute care beds, we will be able to address or better address some of those wait lists.”

Connell said the new unit will also provide a more appropriate environment for those patients.

“At the present time, they would have only access to the unit that they’re on, so it’s not like the home environment,” she said.

Connell said the new facility will have communal areas and planned activities that hospitals dealing with pandemic restrictions aren’t equipped to provide.

She said it also removes people in a high-risk population from the hospital environment where there may be COVID patients. 

Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton said the new facility will benefit the people being moved as well as hospitals. (Robert Short/CBC)

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, said there are many benefits to opening the new unit. 

“Hospitals aren’t designed to be someone’s home,” she said. “The hope is that they will be able to have the transition a little more smoothly and that they’ll be provided with what their needs are, be it mental health or physical health.”

Hazelton said the union will monitor the new unit closely to ensure it’s a success. 

The transition unit is not designed to be a long-term solution to the problem of placing people who need care.

Michele Lowe is managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association. (CBC)

“The best place for Nova Scotians who are assessed for long-term care support should be in long-term care where they can get the specialized care they deserve,” said Michele Lowe, managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association. 

She said COVID-19 had an impact on bed vacancies at nursing homes with most keeping some beds vacant in case residents had to be put in isolation.

The Department of Health and Wellness has since instructed homes to return to 100 per cent capacity now that regional care units have been established, she said.

“It is anticipated that now that we are no longer directed to keep one to two beds vacant for COVID isolation, patients in the temporary transition unit who require long-term care support, should soon be calling a long-term care facility home in [the] Central Zone.” 

Bob and Norma Silverstein advocate for better elder care and are concerned about a lack of consultation on the new transition unit. (CBC)

The chair of Nova Scotians for Long-term Care Reform, a recently created coalition, said he’s concerned about a lack of consultation in developing the transition unit plan. 

“They’re not listening to the public and to the caregivers and all the other people that are involved,” said Robert Silverstein.

Silverstein and his wife, Norma, told CBC News they have many questions about the process, including who gets chosen to move into the transition unit from a hospital bed and what measures have been put in place for visits from family members.

Silverstein said there needs to be a focus on a permanent solution. 

“They need more beds in the long-term care system that are properly staffed and properly funded,” he said. 

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