Hospitals-in-a-box to be deployed in B.C.

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VANCOUVER -- Three “alternate care sites” prepared in the spring are being sent to different areas of the province where the portable units will be ready to transform empty spaces into makeshift hospitals, CTV News Vancouver has learned.

The three units are essentially hospitals in a box. They're shipping containers packed with 40 beds, various hospital equipment and the supplies to treat people needing basic medical attention to those with urgent, life-threatening conditions.

The units were equipped and set up at the same time the Vancouver Convention Centre was converted into a makeshift hospital with the installation of 271 beds and related equipment in three exhibition halls in early April.

B.C.'s health ministry says the first unit is being “pre-positioned” on Vancouver Island on Friday, Dec. 18 while planning is underway for the other two units “with Northern Health and Fraser identified as priority.”

The boxes essentially allow the province to set up pop-up hospital services where there may not be enough capacity at the moment — or where there’s none at all.

“Those supplies are then used to set up a care space in a building of opportunity, such as surge space within a hospital, a community centre, gymnasium,” said a ministry spokesperson. “Patients are not cared for in the container.”

Newly-available data pinpointing COVID-19 hotspots in the province show what health authority-based data has roughly approximated for weeks: the Nechako and Central Okanagan are seeing a spike in cases. As well, pockets in communities like Fort St. James have prompted a response from a special paramedic team tasked with helping transport a surge of new patients.

On Thursday afternoon, the Minister of Health gave the latest numbers on province-wide hospital usage rates, which vary greatly.

"In terms of our regular bed capacity, that occupancy is 88.8 per cent in regular beds and 78 per cent in ICU beds," said Adrian Dix. "Obviously, in some regions and in some places it's more of a challenge and I want to shout out to the extraordinary work done by health-care workers at the University Hospital in northern British Columbia."

Dix also emphasized there's plenty of capacity in emergency rooms, which has concerned doctors since spring. Doctors believe people needing medical attention may be avoiding it out of the misplaced belief hospitals are too busy with COVID-19 patients or that there's a risk of contracting the virus if they go; they warn there could be "collateral damage" if the trend continues.

"We had 4,992 emergency room visits yesterday, that's less than normal," Dix said. “Our acute-care facilities, their occupancy when you count surge beds, is 69.9 per cent of overall beds and 53.6 per cent of ICU beds."