There are just two weeks left in 2015. And if our new predictive model stays as accurate as it has been, 2016 will start off with a bang.

“We are forecasting a surge in patients coming into our hospitals around the weekend of January 2 and 3, and into that following week,” explains Sandra Blevins, Vice President for Integrated Health Services. “But then that next week of January 11 is expected to be even more demanding, with demand peaking and then continuing at high levels through most of the month. January is going to be extremely busy.”

Saskatoon Health Region's predictive model is calling for a surge in demand after Christmas.

Saskatoon Health Region’s predictive model is calling for a surge in demand after Christmas.

A team of physician and operational leaders have been working to put plans in place to handle this surge and deal with the anticipated January shortfall of up to 100 hospital beds. This work will come on the heels of increased staffing and process changes to improve patient flow during the Christmas season, which has typically caused a domino effect once January hits.

“We know much more needs to be done to prepare for January’s demand, even if patient flow is improved during the next two weeks,” says Region vice president Jackie Mann, who is also co-leading the surge planning for that month.” Aside from staffing overcapacity beds proactively at regular time for January, developing standards to guide which patients are placed where, and improving the process to transfer patients back to their home regions, we are also looking at how we can control demand for our hospital beds.”

This means looking at pre-booked procedures that aren’t urgent or emergent, but do require a hospital stay. The team has determined where adjustments can be made to better prepare for uncontrollable demand in areas such as emergency surgeries due to falls, influenza complications, and other illnesses requiring hospital care.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we need to cancel procedures at the last minute due to this emergency demand that translates into a need for hospital beds. So, one area we are looking at is elective inpatient surgery,” says Mann. “These are surgeries that require a hospital stay, but are not cancer-related or emergent. We targeted a few booked procedures primarily in the areas of orthopedic joint replacement, gynecology, and oral maxillary facial (procedures like jaw surgery).”

About a dozen patients who had received a January surgical date have been given a new surgical date for later in the month or into February. The remaining elective operating room (OR) times affected have simply been removed from the surgical schedule.

“Patients affected have already been contacted and re-booked. I am truly sorry for the inconvenience that this caused to these patients. Our goal is to reduce the likelihood of further delaying elective surgeries with a day’s notice as a result of capacity issues. This is something we have had to do in the past when in overcapacity hits its peak, and it causes even greater inconvenience and distress for our patients and their families,” explains Mann. “With this overall two per cent adjustment in planned surgical volumes, we will have freed up seven inpatient surgical beds. Those will be used to care for those emergency surgical cases, and other pressing demands for hospital care during our peak times.”

The Region is also looking at scheduling additional staff in other hospital units where demands for an area’s beds aren’t expected to be as high. The key will be to ensure the right physician coverage is in place and the staff skill set is right for the patients in need.

“We are going to be adjusting daily, depending on demand,” says Blevins. “Our daily cascading calls are going to be even more critical and we will be relying on everyone to work together and be flexible so we can adjust as different units are pressured at different points through the month.”