Introduction: Rural health services face greater challenges in managing infectious patients due to lack of specialty beds and longer lengths of stay. The pressures of seasonal influxes of influenza patients with a heavy burden of chronic disease and an aging population results in an increased demand for hospital beds. During these peak periods it is common for rural hospitals to experience bed block. The result is that patients may be placed into any available bed or ward at the time, increasing the need for transfer and the risk of spreading hospital-acquired respiratory illnesses to other patients and staff across the hospital. This further exacerbates bed block with patients then requiring more specialised treatment and longer lengths of stay. This places additional strain on already existing workforce shortages and limited resources that must accommodate higher than normal patient loads. The objective of this study was to examine rural hospital bed management practices with a focus on the transfer of patients who are actively diagnosed with influenza (either on admission or during their stay in hospital) and to investigate the association of increased bed movement with the rate of nosocomial transmission and staff workload.
Methods: The rates of patients admitted to a rural hospital during the yearly peak influenza season (July to September) for the past 4 years with either community acquired or hospital acquired influenza were examined using an infection control surveillance program. Bed management practices related to these inpatients were audited to examine their contribution towards nosocomial transmissions and staff workload during these periods.
Results: A total of 229 patients presented to this hospital with an influenza diagnosis over the study period and generated 175 bed transfers. Forty percent of community acquired and 70% of hospital acquired influenza inpatients experienced one or more intra-hospital bed transfers during their active infection period. Half of all bed transfers were patients being transferred to another ward (inter-ward) and the other half consisted of those transferred within the same ward (intra-ward). These transfers impacted staff workload, requiring a total of 245 extra hours from nursing and cleaning staff to facilitate, time which is not included when allocating staff at the start of each shift.
Conclusion: Findings from this study indicate that there is no active strategy for influenza containment during high occupancy periods for this rural facility. This resulted in multiple bed transfers occurring during the active phase of influenza infection. This then led to an exacerbation of bed block and thus resulted in further inappropriate placement of newly admitted patients. The development of an optimal bed management plan for future surges of influenza and other highly infectious respiratory illnesses is essential to reduce nosocomial infection and staff workload, especially given the limited resources available in rural areas when compared to metropolitan centres.