The Nova Scotia Health Authority is trying something new things to deal with the long-standing problem of hospital overcrowding.

Changes which came into effect Monday include new standards for getting people out of ambulances.

The new policies in place at five emergency departments in Nova Scotia.

“We have seen an increase in the pressure associated with overcrowding in emergency rooms and in patients over the last year in particular,” said Madonna MacDonald, the vice-president of health services for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

She says they've been working on overcrowding for more than a decade.

Previously, there was a goal of having ambulances offload patients in 20 minutes 90 per cent of the time.

Now, there's a new target.

“The target is really now a flat 30 minutes to offload ambulances, compared to a target that we were trying to achieve 90 per cent of the time,” MacDonald said.

Emergency Health Services (EHS) says they've been working with the health authority to address the complex challenge regarding ambulance offloading at emergency departments across the province.

In a statement, they say:

“Over the last 11 weeks, EHS operations has been a part of a number of patient-centered changes being implemented by the NSHA. We are beginning to feel the impact of these efforts and feel confident the new policies will improve patient flow.”

Another big change involves a timeline for how long someone can wait in the emergency department.

“We're striving towards a target of 12 hours to have an individual, when admitted, into our care, to be moved up to the unit that's most appropriate for their service,” MacDonald said.

In a statement, the province's health minister said, in part:

“We are confident the changes being implemented by NSHA will start to provide relief to the system over time. It is hoped patients will eventually see shorter stays in the emergency department and work with staff to return home with the supports they need as soon as they're able.”

The changes implemented only apply to the five largest emergency departments in the province.

“In Halifax, the QEII, Dartmouth Regional, the hospital in Truro, Valley Regional, and Cape Breton Regional Hospital."

The NSHA says they hope, over time, the policy will spread to other sites across the province.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Natasha Pace.