BY PAMELA FAYERMAN
When the B.C. government ordered the dismantling of the 271-bed field hospital at the Vancouver Convention Centre last month, there were just 66 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, including 14 in ICU.
How things have changed in a short time.
Rising COVID-related hospitalizations are being driven by unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people. COVID patients are now occupying 111 beds (as of August 17) including 51 in ICU (critical care). Some hospitals are cancelling or delaying non-emergency operations. Many are short-staffed because nurses are burnt out and fleeing the profession.
Across the U.S., health professionals are pleading for field hospitals as beds and health professionals are running out.
Some hospitals in the U.S. are even turning parking garages into field hospitals, as this tweet notes:
In Canada, our problems are less about space to put patients and more about the shortage of healthcare professionals to care for patients in hospitals, let alone temporary mash units.
My article about the Vancouver field hospital was the most read piece I’ve written during the pandemic. Conversations with health professionals then indicated they were perplexed as to where the government would find staff for the field hospital if and when it opened. There was even talk about using volunteers to staff the field hospitals.
The Alternate Care Site – as it was formally called – was set up in April 2020 and was one of several throughout B.C. designed to provide medical care in another setting if hospitals in the Vancouver Coastal health region were overflowing.
At the peak – in late April – there were 503 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across B.C. so the current level of hospitalizations is low by comparison. But consider this: when the field hospital was closed, there were 658 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Now, there are a staggering number of active cases – 5,090. And since hospitalizations lag new cases, we can expect the number of hospitalized patients will climb every day.
The Canadian Red Cross helped assist with the setup and maintenance of the site. After the Vancouver field hospital closed in July, health minister Adrian Dix thanked those who set it up:
“While we are fortunate that we did not have to activate the site, your dedication meant that if our hospitals were at capacity, people in Vancouver would have had a safe place to receive health care. It’s great to see the centre about to return to its original, vibrant space.”
He made those remarks when cases and hospitalizations were on the decline, thanks to vaccinations and low levels of the highly infectious Delta variant mostly coursing through unvaccinated individuals.
Dix also said the site could be set up again if needed. But the question remains: who would be available to staff it when healthcare professionals are in such short supply?