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Hospital finds home for over-capacity patients

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre will care for 32 patients to an unused wing at Hogarth Riverview Manor.
Jean Bartkowiak
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre CEO Jean Bartkowiak (left) and Northwest Local Health Integration Network CEO Laura Kokocinski on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 unveil a plan to move 32 patients to an unused wing at Hogarth Riverview Manor to deal with a surge capacity issue brought on by a heavy flu season. (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has struck a deal with the Local Health Integration Network and St. Joseph’s Care Group to deal with a spike in patients suffering from a nasty strain of the flu.

The three organizations have joined forces to create 32 temporary transfer beds for Thunder Bay Regional at the one-year-old Hogarth Riverview Manor, where two units have yet to open because of a shortage of personal support workers.

Jean Bartkowiak, president and CEO at the overcrowded hospital, said this is a temporary solution to a temporary problem.

Something had to be done, he said.

“It’s going to be some relief on our space and a more appropriate location for some of the patients,” Bartkowiak said on Friday, two days after discussions began between the three organizations and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

“It’s some relief on the staff also, because hospitalizing patients in small areas, like seven or eight patients in one room, is not optimal for staffing purposes. Having 32 patients in one unit allows us to staff more appropriately. It gives us a little bit of breathing space.”

While the hospital has experienced surge capacity levels on an ongoing, regular basis over its 14-year history, this year has been particularly troubling, Bartkowiak said.

“This is an uncharacteristic flu season,” he said. “This year is very different than last year. Last year, at the same time, I was operating within my bed complement, but the flu season didn’t hit as bad last year – and we had (fewer) alternate level of care patients at the same time.

Bartkowiak, who said on Thursday the hospital had 455 patients, also noted he can’t plan a health system based on uncharacteristic season periods.

“I think this called for a special measure, which we have implemented, and as I’ve stated, very rapidly.”

Between 15 and 20 staff members are expected to move to Hogarth Riverview Manor with the transferred patients, who have already started the move and will be chosen based on their health stability and not in need of surgery.

Laura Kokocinski, CEO at the Northwest LHIN, said they’ve been working on surge capacity issues for several months, with an eye to a predicted more serious strain of flu.

“We knew that we had to do something a little bit different,” she said, adding the hospital has also managed to open up new beds and space has been made at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital, beds that were scheduled to be closed.

“We started to look at what else was possible because we knew the numbers, especially over the last week or so, have been increasing dramatically at Thunder Bay Regional,” Kokocinski said.

The LHIN, through the ministry, has given the hospital more money to help cover the added costs, so the plan won’t impact the hospital’s bottom line. Other hospitals in the region, including Dryden and Kenora, are also facing similar situations.

St. Joseph’s Care Group CEO Tracy Buckler said it’s not surprising and they were glad to be able to provide space that at present was going unused.