Six months after first opening its doors, the North Island Hospital Comox Valley campus is still operating above its patient capacity.
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 high demand for healthcare in the Valley, the new hospital has regularly experienced an overflow of patients since it opened.
According to Island Health, the average patient occupancy at Courtenay’s new hospital between mid-October and the end of January was 110 per cent.
A statement from Island Health on March 22 recognizes 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.”
The hospital held its soft opening in early October when patients from St. Joseph’s General Hospital were transferred to the new facility. It has been fully open to residents since November.
In January, a Comox Valley-based blog, Decafnation, reported on a series of problems plaguing the new hospital, including capacity issues, low staff morale, and design and planning flaws.
Tom Sparrow, the project manager for the $606-million North Island Hospital project, was asked about the hospital’s rocky opening by directors at a Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board meeting in mid-January.
Sparrow replied that “work is in progress” to mitigate deficiencies at the new hospitals in Courtenay and Campbell River.
“These are big facilities,” he said at the meeting. “You don’t turn these things on and everyone is 100 per cent satisfied on day one.”
Island Health released a lengthy statement in early February acknowledging there were some transitional problems associated with the roll-out of the two new facilities.
“Planning, construction and the opening of the North Island Hospital campuses was a huge undertaking,” reads part of the statement.
“With the transition comes new clinical and administrative processes and new, larger modern facilities built to current health care delivery standards. [It makes] this one of the largest initiatives that Island Health, our staff, and physician partners have been involved in.”
The statement 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.
“…I think you’re going to see a lot of these issues disappear as time goes on,” said Sparrow.
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 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.