Pilot project at Halifax Infirmary aims to speed up ambulance offload times

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The transition teams consisting of a registered nurse and a paramedic will offload patients from ambulances at the Halifax Infirmary. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
The transition teams consisting of a registered nurse and a paramedic will offload patients from ambulances at the Halifax Infirmary. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia announced Wednesday it will be spending more than $3 million to offload ambulances faster at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, which it hopes will free up paramedics to respond to other calls.

A pilot project at the emergency department that is expected to begin in September will see two teams working around the clock to offload ambulances.

Each team will consist of a registered nurse and a paramedic.

A news release from the province said the emergency department treats about 200 patients a day and a quarter of them arrive by ambulance. According to the release, about 13 per cent of patients are admitted to inpatient care at the hospital.

A similar offloading initiative was implemented at Dartmouth General Hospital in 2017.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

According to Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Brendan Elliott, an evaluation of the Dartmouth project in 2019 found it had a dramatic impact on transfer times.

"The time it took to offload nine out of 10 patients at the Dartmouth General emergency department dropped 65 per cent when comparing times before and after the team was put in place," Elliot said in an email to CBC News.

He said the average offload time improved from 150 minutes to 53 minutes.

Wednesday's announcement, according to Elliott, is in addition to other measures already implemented by Nova Scotia Health at the Halifax Infirmary to improve transfer times.

"The time it took to offload nine out of 10 patients at the Halifax Infirmary emergency centre was 67 minutes quicker when comparing March 2021 to April 2021, and an additional 88 minutes between April and mid-May," he said.

Elliot said for the overwhelming majority of patients, the transfer time from EHS to the emergency department decreased from 315.8 minutes in March to 160.8 minutes in mid-May.

Paramedics applaud move

Elliott said implementing a similar project in Halifax took time because the offloading challenges at the Halifax Infirmary are different and more complex than at Dartmouth General, in part because the Halifax Infirmary acts as both a hospital and teaching facility.

Michael Nickerson, the business manager for the union representing paramedics in Nova Scotia, said the union is pleased with the initiative.

"Fewer offload delays will mean paramedics are pulled from surrounding areas less often, reducing shift overruns and allowing for the breaks they deserve," he said in the release.

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