As pandemic persists, B.C. rolls out Hospital At Home program

Victoria General Hospital is launching a new program aimed at reducing virus transmission in hospitals — and freeing up beds in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases — by moving people home who are in hospital for observation.

The $42.3-million Hospital At Home program, based on similar programs in Australia and the United Kingdom, is expected to launch at Victoria General and a hospital in northern B.C. in October or November, before rolling out provincewide.

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The initiative is aimed at patients who meet certain criteria, such as having a caregiver at home.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said patients at home will have around-the-clock care. They will remain “admitted” to hospital and will have access to a team of health-care professionals, such as hospitalists and nurses, and in some cases equipment.

The patient can also be returned to hospital if need be.

Premier John Horgan said Wednesday the program will roll out to other acute-care facilities and communities across B.C. “over the coming months.”

“For many patients, especially elderly, this means that they will be able to avoid complications that oftentimes emerge in our acute-care facilities,” said Horgan. “It’s critically important as we go into the flu season that we make sure that our hospitals are not congested when they don’t have to be.”

The Hospital At Home program is part of the province’s plan for managing COVID-19 through the fall and winter, which includes a regional approach to demand for hospital beds, a robust immunization program for the flu season October through January, a ramping up of COVID testing capacity and contact tracing. Cancelling surgeries to increase bed capacity will be used only as a last resort.

The province is purchasing almost two million doses of flu vaccine, up from 1.5 million last year, and will boost COVID-19 testing capacity to 20,000 from about 4,000 to 6,000 tests done daily in B.C. now — including 300 to 500 on the Island. The province says it’s also working to fix testing delays, including those at Island Health’s COVID-19 call centre, where people can be on hold up to two hours at peak periods.

Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, said the Hospital At Home program was successfully tried in Australia, “so we have confidence in terms of a country with similar characteristics to us that it did work.”

Stanwick said patients often do better in their own homes.

On Wednesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 100 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, including one additional case on Vancouver Island, bringing the total active cases in the Island Health region to six.

Henry said increases in COVID-19 cases that have cropped up as part of the province’s reopening plan over the summer “are concerning to us, but they don’t reflect widespread transmission in our communities that we’ve seen in other places that have overwhelmed health systems.”

Henry said preparations for the next phase of the pandemic include a strong focus on sustaining infection-prevention and control measures, as well as contact tracing and protecting people at risk.

Stanwick noted transmission rates have been low on the Island compared with the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province. But he said caseloads might be rising in coming weeks with the start of university if the provincial health officer hadn’t ordered nightclubs and banquet halls to close and cut off alcohol service in bars and restaurants at 10 p.m.

The province says its focus will remain on hiring, training and deploying a range of health-related workers from registered nurses to care aides to carry out its plans.

Island Health continues to have three designated COVID-19 hospitals on Vancouver Island — Victoria General Hospital, Royal Jubilee Hospital and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital — of 19 in the province.

To prepare for fall and winter, Horgan said, the Health Ministry will get an operating budget increase of $1.58 billion and capital budget increase of $150 million for 2020-2021 to respond to health-care requirements of COVID-19. Of that, $850 million has already been announced for measures including increasing contact-tracing staff, moving health-care workers to a single long-term-care or assisted-living site, a surgical restart strategy and increased spending for personal protective equipment.

There are 1,378 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Of the 3,101 people who are being monitored for the virus, 72 are on the Island.

In total, 213 people have died, five of whom were on the Island. Twelve long-term care homes and three acute-care facilities have outbreaks; none are on Vancouver Island. There are 37 people in hospital with the virus, including 15 in intensive care. None of those in hospital is on the Island.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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