Why more hospital beds is not the answer to emergency room overcrowding

The subject of emergency room overcrowding, and scenes of frail or elderly patients lying in beds parked in hallways is always guaranteed to garner headlines, and a strong reaction from the public. The typical message is that we need to pour more dollars into making even more hospital beds available. Even when tens of millions of dollars are added to create those beds, the story inevitably reappears, and the cycle continues.

At BC Care Providers Association, we strongly believe the solution is NOT to build more capacity in hospitals, but to make investments in home care and residential care homes. The argument is simple – study after study identifies the fact approximately 15 percent (numbers vary between 13 – 17 percent, depending on the jurisdiction) of patients occupying hospital beds can receive equivalent or more appropriate care in the community. This means in their home setting with the support of a care aide, or in a residential care home.

The cost differences are significant. A hospital bed costs approximately $1,800 per day. By contrast, a bed in a care home is about $200 per day, and on average home care costs even less.

This idea, which some deem as a common sense solution, is slowly gaining support from health policy decision makers thanks to BCCPA’s efforts at communicating it to the public. We note that our CEO Blog on this topic – which received a strong, positive reaction on social media – has recently caught the attention of preeminent health writer André Picard, and Globe and Mail newspaper columnist. His tweet on our CEO blog needless to say drove a lot of traffic to our website, and responses like these on Twitter.

Following our earlier discussion on this topic, Global BC News Hour – one of Canada’s most watched broadcasts – featured BCCPA CEO Daniel Fontaine near the top of last night’s program on the subject of another ER overcrowding story. You can watch this story embedded below.

This is a subject where we know there is a lot of support, despite it being a “common sense” solution. BCCPA will continue to keep this discussion going, as it is the real way we can provide appropriate care for frail and elderly Canadians, while making hospital beds available for those who need them.