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Interior Health suspends elective surgeries

Interior Health says Omicron-related staffing shortages have prompted the suspension of non-urgent surgeries across the health authority’s region, including the Kootenays, Okanagan, and Cariboo.

CEO Susan Brown says the surgeries at 15 sites will be postponed initially for four weeks.

“We’ll be assessing that daily and weekly,” she said in an interview. So if we can [end that] before that four week period, we will do that.”

Brown called the move a “very difficult decision.”

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“Although we’re talking about elective non-urgent surgeries, these are medically necessary procedures and we do realize the impact to families and patients,” she said.

Brown said “much like the rest of society,” Interior Health had seen “a lot of sickness” within its staff.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a lot of sick calls,” she said. “We’ve started to reassign staff to different areas to ensure we’ve got reliable, safe service available to the public.”

Brown says roughly 2,800 surgical procedures could be postponed over the next four weeks.

However, she added that if sick calls by staff begin to level off and people come back to work, they expect to resume those surgeries sooner.

“I can only assume we’re in the thick of what we’re going to see from this wave of the pandemic,” she said. “My hope of course is that it doesn’t become worse [and] that we’re at the peak pretty soon and then we will see reduction at the other side that would allow us to come out of this scenario.”

The surgical suspensions are on top of other measures announced this week by Interior Health, which include temporarily reducing some outpatient and primary care services, along with adult day programs and some non-urgent home health services.

Additionally Interior Health has temporarily closed inpatient services in Clearwater, Invermere, and Lillooet and reduced overnight emergency department hours at community health centres in New Denver and Ashcroft. The Barriere health centre has been temporarily closed entirely so staff can be redeployed to neighbouring communities.

“I know how disruptive these changes are to people, our physicians, our staff, and those we care for,” Brown said. “It’s been a difficult but necessary decision and we’ll do everything we can to minimize it.”

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