Sudbury's Children's Treatment Centre at the Ramsey Lake Health Centre will be relocated in order to create more acute care bed spaces, as Health Sciences North continues to battle with capacity issues, but there's no real timeline for that to happen.
Health Sciences North was at 100 per cent capacity for all but 13 days over the past 15 months.
Last month, the hospital hit a record high number of patients in unconventional bed spaces, with 67 patients finding themselves in tub rooms without windows, shower rooms, patient lounges with no bathrooms, hallways with lights on 24 hours a day and admitted patients waiting in the emergency department for a bed.
The daily challenge of finding bed spaces for patients is not expected to get any easier as flu season is fast approaching, a time when hospitals typically see a spike in patient numbers.
Health Sciences North has opened 12 additional unconventional bed spaces in a medical inpatient overflow unit with no bathrooms or windows, and these beds will remain open throughout the flu season until early 2020.
While the hospital is pursuing stop-gap solutions to ease their capacity issues, the bottom line has been made abundantly clear by HSN executives for years, Health Sciences North was built too small.
"Health Sciences North has been identified by the Northeast LHIN as the hotspot for overcapacity in Northeastern Ontario," said HSN CEO Dominic Giroux.
"The Ministry of Health also identified HSN as one of the hotspots for overcapacity across the province. Sudburians know that Health Sciences was built too small and that's why we're bursting at the seams right now. We're not in flu season yet and in October we had a peak of 67 patients who were receiving care in spaces that are not designed for that purpose."
According to the Ontario Hospital Association, the international standard for safe hospital capacity is around 85 per cent.
As a hospital, HSN has little control over the flow of patients who come through the doors. Sudbury and northeastern Ontario as a whole has an aging population with higher rates of obesity, cancer and other diseases compared to provincial averages.
Despite high patient numbers, Health Sciences North continues to excel in their emergency department, Giroux said, when it comes to treating patients who don't need to be admitted to the hospital.
"The good news is that the wait time in the emergency department if you don't require admission is actually better than the provincial average," said Giroux. "Our challenge is if you do require admission, the wait time can be higher than 40 hours. Right now the status quo is not sustainable, especially in light of the upcoming flu season."
He said Health Sciences North's board of directors has been working to address short-, medium- and long-term plans for overcrowding at the hospital, with the 12 additional bed spaces in an overflow unit as their short-term plan. The hospital will be taking a pretty major step in the coming year to open up 56 more bed spaces.
The board decided in October to proceed with planning for the relocation of the Children's Treatment Centre and the two "section 23" classrooms located at CTC, to non-HSN facilities.
The hospital's executive committee and board also directed management to cease the work and advocacy related to their original plan to create 20 net new bed spaces and to commence planning for the renovation to re-convert the building currently housing the CTC at HSN into an inpatient area as soon as possible.
Health Sciences North has hosted the CTC in its current location at the Ramsey Lake Health Centre since 2009. No timeline has been set out yet as to when this transition of moving the CTC to a new location and Health Sciences North having their 56 additional bed spaces open.
"We've been very transparent with our frontline staff and the Children's Treatment Centre and the partners involved with that program, which is funded by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, and with the school board partners, so the very next day after the decision was made we briefed them, recognizing we did not have all the answers in terms of what the alternative site will be," said Giroux.
"I spent 15 years of my career in elementary and secondary education so I want to make sure that we get it right in terms of transition in an orderly fashion for the staff and children who benefit from the CTC. This being said, we do need to proceed in a timely way because that pressure is compounding every day in terms of our capacity pressures in the hospital."
Moving to the long-term plans, HSN is expected to finalize their 20-year capital master plan this winter, which will include some significant changes to the phyiscal footprint of the hospital and how they will address future needs.
"We have 14 sites right now and that's not efficient and it's not patient-centred. Our new strategic plan calls for the beginning of the implementation of a new capital master plan that accomplishes a number of things such as reducing our number of sites, increasing our number of bed spaces, expanding space for NEO Kids to avoid having families travel south for care," said Giroux.
Despite the challenges the hospital has been facing with capacity, Giroux says he's proud of the work of frontline staff and that patient care has not taken a hit.
"We survey patients and families on a monthly basis and we're proud of the fact that despite our occupancy situation, the vast majority of the 35 questions we ask on those patient experience surveys, the vast majority are above the provincial average," said Giroux.
"So that speaks to the quality of care and the quality of work of our frontline staff."