Thousands of patients across the Interior Health region are expected to be impacted in one way or another by health-care service cuts announced by the Interior Health Authority (IHA) on Tuesday.
“We do understand there is impact to people and their lives and for that, we’re incredibly sorry,” said Susan Brown, the CEO of IHA.
“We will do everything we can to get things back up and running and back to normal as soon as possible.”
Brown told Global News on Wednesday that the decision to cut services temporarily was a difficult but necessary one due to growing staff shortages within IHA as a result of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“We’ve seen significant sickness amongst our staff, which has resulted in staff shortages in some areas and it’s paramount that we maintain emergency services safe care for those that are coming through our doors,” Brown said.
“So that is really the thrust behind why we made the decision.”
According to Brown, staff are also being shuffled around to ensure adequate care in communities where staffing is at critically low levels.
As part of the temporary service cuts, health centres in six communities, including Clearwater, Invermere, Lillooet, Ashcroft, New Denver and Barriere, will either see the facility close, reduce its hours or suspend inpatient services.
“It’s because there was an extreme shortage in those communities, and they’ve had sporadic closures,” Brown stated. “So it’s really trying to stabilize emergency care.”
But the impact if far broader than just those six communities.
IHA has announced it’s pausing all non-urgent surgeries across the health region for four weeks at 15 sites including at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH).
“Approximately 2,800 across those 15 sites in that four-week period,” said Brown. “Of course, that number will lessen if we don’t use the whole four weeks.”
Outpatient services, such as pre-scheduled procedures like colonoscopies, are also being reduced across the region.
“We would be calling you and rescheduling you for that service,” Brown said.
Non-urgent home health services along with adult day programs, which support elder clients with medical and recreational needs, are also being affected.
IHA said it will prioritize patients with the most urgent needs for those services.
“We will be looking at the most acute patients within our community for service,” Brown said.
In addition, primary care, which offers a host of health services in the community setting, may also be impacted.
“We’ve got a number of allied health professionals, people, social workers, dietitians, physiotherapists, where they do care in the community. We may be reassigning them into the hospital to manage acute care patients for a period of time if that’s necessary,” Brown said.
Brown said she doesn’t know exactly how long these service reductions will last but IHA is planning at this point for a four-week period.
“If staff sickness levels off or starts to reduce dramatically, we will stand services back up as quickly as possible,” Brown said. “If things get worse than what we’re seeing right now, then we may have extend.”
Despite the cutbacks, Brown is re-assuring the public urgent and emergency medical care will not be impacted.
“If you need care in a hospital, if you need an emergency surgery, please do not worry. The services will be there. The care will be there,” she said.
“That’s why we’ve made this decision so when you need things on an urgent basis, they will be there.”