How COVID-related staffing challenges are impacting BC health authorities, hospitals

Jan 18 2022, 11:30 pm

Vancouver Coastal (VCH) and Fraser Health authorities are providing an update on current staffing levels, and they state that they are experiencing challenges due to the Omicron variant of concern.

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Health Minister Adrian Dix also suggested a higher number of healthcare workers than usual are getting sick for this time of year.

VCH and Fraser Health have long-term plans in place, but short-term staffing challenges have already had a major impact on healthcare.

“Over the past several months, temporary measures have been adopted to address immediate requirements, as needed,” VCH and Fraser Health said in a statement.

Some of the impacts include delays to surgeries. As of January 18, 154 non-urgent surgeries were postponed in VCH over the past month due to a reduction in available operating rooms.

“Staffing impacts have also had a pronounced effect on rural and remote sites, as these facilities and programs frequently operate with smaller teams. Staffing challenges are similar for smaller teams offering specialized services.”

Fraser Health has had to reschedule 128 non-urgent elective surgeries in just the last four weeks.

“We monitor daily, and make changes to adjust for the services required to minimize service disruptions to our patients and clients. While Fraser Health is seeing staffing challenges, we are able to manage.”

The two health authorities also touched on the increased demand at testing sites.

“To preserve testing capacity for those at higher risk of COVID-19 and for those who live or work in higher risk settings, testing is not required for those who have mild symptoms and are fully vaccinated.”

About a month ago, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned that staffing shortages would be an issue with how rapidly Omicron was spreading in the province, suggesting that businesses could lose up to one-third of their staff.

“Both health authorities also appreciate the patience, support and understanding of the public when accessing health care services, as teams that deliver these supports may be managing staffing challenges.”

Both VCH and Fraser Health are reminding residents that getting vaccinated is the best defense against the virus, “including the Omicron variant.”

It was just under a week ago that the BC Nurses Union suggested that the situation in healthcare facilities had gotten dire, and that nurses were at their breaking point.

Changes within the Provincial Health Services Authority

On top of the staffing challenges present at Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) have announced some temporary changes.

“Some of these strategies include leveraging overtime for staff and redeploying staff to different programs and services based on areas with the highest need; centralizing administrative services, such as patient registration, to reduce staffing demands; and where appropriate, using virtual health technology to expand capacity,” PHSA said in a statement.

Several specific health facilities will have temporary changes implemented.

BC Children’s Hospital:

  • Temporary rescheduling of select non-urgent surgeries; and scheduled electroencephalography services

BC Women’s Hospital:

  • Some gynecological surgeries have been delayed due to some patients being identified as COVID-positive

BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services:

  • Temporary pause on new admissions to the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addictions, and the Heartwood Centre for Women

BC Emergency Health Services

  • Some delays with repatriation of patients by air transport
  • First priority for patients with most urgent care needs

BCEHS is also asking the public to use the 811 nurse call line, family doctors and Urgent Care Centres for non-emergency needs to help prioritize 911 for emergency and life-threatening needs

Amir AliAmir Ali

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