Hospitals cutting back on surgeries and other services amid COVID pressures

About 120 surgeries and 30 procedures were postponed last week in Nova Scotia, and now only urgent needs will be met.

“Patient volumes are at a high, staff are seeing higher visits to emergency and are experiencing delays in admitting patients. Outbreak cases among patients admitted for non-COVID reason has also gone up,” Doctor Strang said at the Wednesday COVID briefing.

Nova Scotia’s hospitals are reducing their capacity for surgeries, procedures and ambulatory care clinics due to continued pressure from COVID-19. Last week about 120 surgeries and 30 procedures were postponed, according to Nova Scotia Health, and effective today “services have been further reduced, with only urgent and emergent surgeries, including time sensitive cancer surgeries, continuing at this time.”

While diagnostic imaging and lab services are carrying on without interruption, ambulatory care clinics and procedures “will focus on urgent needs only.”

About 355 of Nova Scotia's hospital beds are tied up by people awaiting transfer to long-term care or other housing, and about 600 health care staff are off work sick or due to isolation requirements, “in a system that was under immense pressure before the omicron wave,” Robert Strang said. “These shortages are happening across the entire health system,” the chief medical officer said during Wednesday’s COVID briefing with premier Tim Houston.

There are 60 Nova Scotians currently hospitalized due to COVID and being treated in a special COVID unit, one of them a child under five. The average age of someone hospitalized with COVID is 66.

“At many hospitals, inpatient units are operating with reduced staffing levels and the demand for beds is exceeding the number of staffed beds available,” reads the NSH statement. This is impacting wait times, surgical care and availability of inpatient beds.

“Patient volumes are at a high, staff are seeing higher visits to emergency and are experiencing delays in admitting patients. Outbreak cases among patients admitted for non-COVID reason has also gone up,” Doctor Strang said.

On top of the 60 patients in a hospital COVID unit, the province’s Wednesday disease report says 40 people are in hospital "who were identified as positive upon arrival to hospital but were admitted for another medical reason or people who were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care." That makes 100 patients who had COVID when they arrived at the hospital. In addition to them, the province says another 94 people currently in hospital caught COVID after they were admitted, for a total of nearly 200 COVID-related hospitalizations.

“So it’s paramount that all Nova Scotians do what we can to protect critical health services and cancer care for those that need it most,” Strang said.

Testing + schools

During the briefing, premier Houston said he recognizes it’s hard to adjust to Nova Scotia’s dramatically scaled-back rapid testing program, but with supply chain pressures it’s unlikely rapid tests will be as readily available as they were just last month.

“Nova Scotia has been the envy of the country in terms of the public’s commitment to testing,” Houston said Wednesday. He noted he used to be a regular at testing centres, and understands the comfort that regular access to COVID testing provided.

“But we need to move away from the way we’ve been testing,” he said.

The premier said we know that COVID is here in the province, so it’s best to just stay home if you’re sick and assume it’s COVID. “Even if we wanted to continue testing at the same earlier pace it’s just not possible due to supply issues,” Houston said.

The province plans to distribute about 830,000 tests a week coming from a federal supply. Nova Scotia schools will receive 25,000 tests this Monday when students return to in-person classes.

The premier repeated his message that schools remain the safest place for kids. The province will have installed air filtration systems in the 71 schools that were relying on passive ventilation before Monday, he said.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to keep those in the schools, teachers, custodians, staff in the schools safe and keep students safe,” Houston said.

The province reported 837 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID, with approximately 6,867 active cases across the province. The province did not report the number of positives from rapid tests.