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B.C. hospitals cutting services as COVID-19 pressure builds

Layoff of unvaccinated staff adds to critical care burden
Surrey Memorial and other hospitals in B.C. are coping with staff shortages and an influx of COVID-19 patients. (Surrey Now-Leader files)

Surgical services continue to be reduced at B.C. hospitals this week as the health ministry grapples with continued high numbers of seriously ill people with COVID-19, and chronic staff shortages made worse by the suspension of unvaccinated health care employees.

The loss of more than 3,000 doctors, nurses, lab techs and other health care employees, suspended by public health order for not being fully vaccinated, has not affected Vancouver Island, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday. It has been significant in the Northern and Interior Health regions, where mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients continue to add pressure on a health care system with a chronic shortage of skilled staff that has worsened during the pandemic.

Kelowna General Hospital has closed two operating rooms due to staff suspensions, Dix said Nov. 1, and non-urgent eye procedures are postponed to respond to critical care and “surge planning” needs. At Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, only emergency and same-day surgeries are being performed to preserve beds for ongoing critical care pressures.

As of Sunday, 90 critical care patients have been transferred out of Northern Health to hospitals in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, as the remote region struggles with low vaccination rates and staffing shortages that are historically the most significant in the province.

Dix said “a very small number” of scheduled surgeries in Fraser Health have been postponed because of unvaccinated staff leaving, but the pressure on the system is having effects.

“Abbotsford Regional and Royal Columbian Hospital continue to reduce one operating room due to ongoing demand for critical care,” Dix said. “Abbotsford Regional will focus on same-day surgeries that don’t require a stay in hospital for November, due to demand for critical care and COVID19.”

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Island Health has not seen surgery cancellations due to staff suspensions, but has other pressures. At Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, non-urgent surgeries continue to be postponed this week, with some resuming the week of Nov. 8, Dix said. “Royal Jubilee Hospital will continue to have one operating room reduced through Dec. 17 to support critical care demand. Victoria General Hospital has resumed non-urgent surgeries.”

In Northern Health, operating room staff at Prince Rupert are being transferred to the emergency department for November due to staff shortages. At Bulkley Valley District Hospital in Smithers, day-to-day surgical postponements continue in order to support critical care.

Dawson Creek and Fort St. John Hospitals are restricted to “urgent, emergent and cancer surgeries for critical care capacity and increasing COVID-19 admissions,” Dix said. University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George continues to have reduced surgical services but expects to have four operating rooms starting Nov. 8.


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