B.C.’s hospitals still have thousands of empty beds in case of COVID surge

Interior Health at 94 per cent capacity; Fraser Health at 64 per cent

As flu season approaches, and as worries continue about the potential for more COVID-19 cases, most of British Columbia’s hospitals continue to have in-patient beds at the ready.

The province’s hospitals were operating at 76 per cent capacity as of Sept. 28, according to numbers provided to The News by the Ministry of Health. That means there are more than 2,600 free acute-care beds available and unoccupied.

And while that is almost half as many available free beds than in late March, it still gives B.C. dramatically more wiggle room than before COVID-19 hit. It’s also more than three times the number of people who have been hospitalized in B.C. with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. As of Oct. 1, 69 people in B.C. were in hospital with COVID-19. A total of 779 people had spent any time in hospital for COVID since January.

Before this year’s pandemic, B.C.’s hospital system had operated at 103 per cent capacity, meaning that at any one time, dozens of patients around the province were situated in makeshift “surge” beds and locations.

But in March, as COVID-19 began to sweep across the globe, the province focused on moving thousands of people out of hospital to ensure there was space for a potential surge in new cases. That was driven, in part, by the experience of places like Italy and New York City, where health systems were overwhelmed, leading to high death rates when only a portion of those with the virus could get medical help.

In B.C., those moved out of hospital included thousands of patients who occupied hospital beds while waiting for care alternatives to be set up in the community. Thousands of non-urgent surgeries were also cancelled, freeing up beds that would otherwise be occupied by recovering patients.

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Critically, the province has also opened thousands of new beds. That has enabled it to have space prepared in hospitals, even as non-urgent surgeries have been re-started and accelerated to resolve the backlog created by this spring’s stoppage.

Nineteen larger hospitals have been chosen as primary sites where COVID-19 patients are treated.

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Sept. 30 occupancy by health authority
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