Looking in a dictionary, it’s pretty straightforward. Capacity is defined as the maximum amount that something can contain.

But it’s not that simple for health care. Capacity for us means having the right number of beds in the right place when our patients need it. Because the demand for beds fluctuates, finding the appropriate mix of beds is challenging. Add to that a growing population, and the fact that not all beds are equal in terms of level of care it provides, and the challenge grows.

“While all care beds look very much the same on paper, what makes some beds different than others is the level of care provided and the equipment available in the area,” explains Nilesh Kavia, lead for Team 3. ”So, you might think you have the right number overall, but when ‘specialized’ beds are full, even if other ‘regular’ beds exist elsewhere, we are at capacity because the type of bed a patient needs is not available when they need it and they have to wait or be put in an inappropriate care space.”

When the Better Every Day 14 Day Challenge took place in February, the Region began consistently defining capacity based on an agreed upon baseline number of beds for patient care.

Overcapacity Daily Snapshot Graphic

The Region has been experiencing overcapacity in its three urban acute care hospitals for several months. But some exciting headway in understanding capacity and how to manage it will soon change that.

As 90 Days of Innovation began, Team 3 began diving even further into this number. The first step was developing an actual inventory of physical beds available throughout all three urban hospitals. Then, they mapped out where those beds are actually located in terms of care areas (i.e. how many beds are in general medicine units, how many are in surgical units). The next step was looking at of the needs of each patient being cared for in each bed and determining if it was appropriate for their needs (i.e. are ‘medical’ patients being cared for in a ‘surgical’ bed). Finally, the team began taking that information and layering on its forecasted demand for the different types of care we provide in hospital.

“Understanding capacity is at the heart of patient flow. When patients wait for the care they need, recovery time is delayed,” says Kavia. “When a patient is ‘off-serviced’ (placed in an area where they are not receiving the care they need), research shows their length of stay could be lengthened by up to three days. This is because ‘off-servicing’ physically separates patients from the specially trained care team that would best care for their needs. Being able to staff beds with the appropriate staff for the intended service is key. By understanding what our true capacity needs to be, we can plan better and set up our services and resources to care for patients in the way they need, when they need it.”

The team has recently made some exciting headway understanding capacity and determining how we will manage it in the future. Make sure to watch for more information on this work coming soon.

See the www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/ReadyEveryDay website for more information about 90 Days of Innovation: Ready Every Day.