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Staff shortages easing, but surgeries still postponed

Interior Health’s chief executive officer says they are beginning to see light at the end of the Omicron tunnel, as staff shortages that resulted in the postponement of elective surgeries and other service reductions begin to ease off.

“I do believe we have peaked now where sick calls and our [COVID] positivity rates are starting to come down slightly,” Susan Brown said Thursday in a Zoom call with regional media.

“I hope that we’re over that peak now and this would be looking towards the next week or two getting back to usual service.”

Interior Health announced service changes that took effect Jan. 19 and were expected to last up to four weeks. They included the reduction of hours of the emergency room at the Slocan Community Health Centre in New Denver to from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., rather than around the clock.

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Brown says about 1,200 surgeries have been postponed so far across the health region, and if the situation continues for the full four weeks, they would expect 2,700 surgeries to be affected.

“We will prioritize them to be rescheduled as soon as we get services back up and running,” Brown said. “I know these surgeries are medically necessary.”

She added that in the same time frame, they have still been able to do approximately 2,800 urgent surgeries. When elective surgeries do resume, she said they will likely be phased in, not fully restored all at once.

Brown said Interior Health’s staff sick calls have been “far beyond” what they normally see in a flu/cold season, peaking at almost 900 people per day at the worst times, and sitting about 800 on an average day. That is about one-third higher than any other year, and she attributed the difference to the Omicron variant.

Additionally, she said they lost some staff due to provincial orders requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated: “Two things happening within a short period that made it challenging for staffing.”

Brown says they are “aggressively” recruiting new staff and offering jobs to every graduating student nurse this year.

Locally, she said Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail is holding its own despite higher volumes in acute care, but could not predict when Slocan Community Health Centre would see its emergency room hours restored. Although COVID numbers are past their peak, they are still coming down slowly.

“If it starts to have a more abrupt drop, we’ll be safe to reopen,” she said.

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