Fraser Health will close 80 hospital beds across the region this spring as it simultaneously opens up hundreds of new residential care beds and embarks on a long-awaited shift of aging patients out of hospitals and back into local communities.
The strategy has been years in the works and is culminating now as 400 residential beds are set to come on stream across the region.
“This will happen over the next six months,” Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said. “As those residential care beds come available, we’ll be able to move people into them and slowly the reductions will happen.”
Beds will be cut at 10 hospitals – all of them except Delta and Fraser Canyon.
The reductions work out to less than three per cent of Fraser’s 3,000 total hospital acute care beds.
Fraser officials hope the shift into the community will ultimately mean better, more appropriate care for those patients, as well as fewer people clogging hospital beds and less ER congestion.
“What we’re hearing is people want to go home and they want to go back into their communities,” Juma said.
Juma maintained the region will see a net increase in combined residential and acute care beds and a net increase in jobs as more support staff are being deployed for community care.
Ten new hospice beds are also being opened.
The 400 new residential complex care beds opening are split between four projects in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and White Rock at a cost of $34.5 million to Fraser.
Fraser has long pursued a “home is best” long-range strategy to decongest hospitals but that took on renewed urgency in 2013 when Health Minister Terry Lake ordered a review after the health region repeatedly failed to stay within its budget.
“Care in the community is certainly less expensive than hospital care,” Juma acknowledged. “The long-term benefit is we will see those gains in the future.”
B.C. Nurses Union president Gayle Duteil opposes the plan to close beds, saying hospitals are already heavily congested before the planned shift in resources.
“Last week we saw a record high number of patients waiting for beds in wards,” Duteil said. “Some patients were waiting in the ER for upwards of four hours just to be triaged. That is not safe patient care.”
She questioned whether enough nurses are working in community care to handle the new patients.
Juma agreed hospital emergency departments are busy right now, partly because of higher winter volumes.
“We are going to ensure the support in the community is there before we start reducing those bed numbers.”
Fraser Health’s latest report card shows the region continues to far underperform its targets on how long patients stay in hospital as well as key measures of ER congestion.