N.S. hospitals nearing capacity due to COVID-19 pandemic; no plan to bring back unvaccinated workers

Theressa Sproule’s two year wait for shoulder surgery in Nova Scotia is about to get even longer.

Ever since she fell about three years ago, her shoulder frequently dislocates. She’s currently on maternity leave but was looking forward to surgery so she could recover and get ready to go back to work in a few months.

On Wednesday, she learned her surgery is being postponed.

“I can’t continue with my life until I get this surgery done,” she said. “My life is on hold basically until I get this surgery. I’m going to be in constant pain.”

NSH POSTPONES SURGERIES

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Health postponed all surgeries, except urgent, emergent and time sensitive cancer surgeries, in order to re-assign staff to areas like inpatient care, intensive care units and emergency care.

“It allows us to utilize the staff that would be normally involved in performing those surgeries to actually be redeployed within our system and allow us to open more beds,” said Dr. Nicole Boutilier, vice president of medicine with NSH.

NSH cites higher than normal emergency visits and demands for hospital beds, including increasing COVID-19 related admissions, and staffing pressures as the main problems.

“Over the last week or so, our number of COVID admissions has more than doubled and we expect that intense pressure to last at least another week,” Boutilier said.

Boutilier said during the first week of January there was a reduction of about 200 surgeries, which is about a 40 per cent reduction of normal capacity. It’s still unclear how many surgeries are being postponed this week.

OVERCAPACITY IN EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS

Emergency departments across Nova Scotia are feeling their own pain.

Dr. Kirk Magee, the chief of Central zone emergency departments, said the demand is exceeding their capacity.

“Patients that are admitted to hospital are waiting in our departments and ambulance patients are backing up into our hallways,” Magee said.

He said while COVID-19 has played a role, it’s not all due to the virus. He says even before the pandemic, emergency departments were under acute strain.

“Every year in December, January, February and March we always get into trouble,” Magee said. “But with COVID, it was sort of the straw that broke the already dysfunctional camel’s back.”

Magee said there is a massive effort to redeploy staff and open up areas for inpatient care.

“It’s happening very quickly, but it’s never fast enough,” he said, adding it’s not an easy process.

“It’s kind of like having a car that has a tire that’s flat and it’s like trying to change that flat tire while you’re still driving.”

PREMIER WILL NOT BRING BACK UNVACCINATED WORKERS

In recent weeks, about 600 NSH workers are out isolating each day, adding more pressure to the system.

During a cabinet press conference Thursday, a reporter asked Premier Tim Houston whether he would consider bringing back unvaccinated staff.

“No,” Houston said. “There’s a lot of system management, redeploying people to certain areas. The human resources are being actively managed but that’s not part of the management process.”

Ontario is deploying internationally trained nurses to help relieve some pressure.

Houston said Nova Scotia is exploring the idea of doing the same thing.

Nova Scotia College of Nursing tells CTV News there are approximately 45 internationally educated nurses in the registration and licensing process and the majority of them wish to be registered nurses. 

“We’re looking at all kinds of options including students that are still siting through the process. Is there a role for them?” Houston said.