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Omicron staffing issues for B.C.’s Interior Health subsiding, services returning

Hospitals across B.C., including Kelowna General Hospital, are seeing an increase in COVID patients due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. Global News

Health services that were withdrawn when the Omicron wave of COVID-19 crested in  B.C.’s Interior are starting to resume.

That means everything from non-urgent elective surgeries to smaller town clinic hours are coming back across the Southern Interior, according to the latest report from the health authority.

“The Omicron-driven COVID-19 staffing impacts on the health system are beginning to subside and Interior Health can now resume services that were temporarily paused last month,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said in a statement on Friday.

Click to play video: 'KGH overwhelmed with surge in Omicron' KGH overwhelmed with surge in Omicron
KGH overwhelmed with surge in Omicron – Feb 4, 2022

“We are working with impacted communities this week and assigning staff back to their regular roles throughout the region following a phased approach that brings services back in a safe and planned way.”

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Staffing issues have been particularly troublesome within the Interior Health region in recent weeks. Last week, Health Minister Adrian Dix said that from Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, a total of 2,932 Interior Health employees called in sick, a number that’s 20 per cent higher than pre-pandemic times.

Read more: COVID-19: Hundreds of Interior Health employees calling in sick every day, CEO says

As such, services were seriously diminished. Of the 320 non-urgent surgeries postponed between Feb. 6 to Feb. 12 in B.C., 231 were in the Interior Health region.

Getting some of the services up and running again has, in some cases, required recruiting and hiring new employees.

Of note, the health authority hired two new registered nurses that will allow Lillooet and inpatient services to reopen on Mar. 14; one new registered nurse has been recruited to Clearwater and inpatient services will reopen on Feb. 23.

Click to play video: 'Kelowna nurses say B.C.’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers will have huge impact on patient care' Kelowna nurses say B.C.’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers will have huge impact on patient care
Kelowna nurses say B.C.’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers will have huge impact on patient care – Oct 29, 2021

Nurse-provided primary care services at the Barriere and District Health Centre will return to normal on Feb. 23; outpatient lab services in Barriere will return to five days per week, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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For those who have been awaiting non-urgent elective surgical procedures that were put on hold last month, scheduling will resume on Feb. 23, and will phase back to full services across Interior Health over a two-week period.

Varying by community, select outpatient services, adult day programs and non-urgent home health services will resume. Impacted clients will be contacted directly.

Read more: Canada leaving ‘crisis phase’ of pandemic but resurgence possible as measures ease: Tam

Not all has returned to normal, however.

For the time being, overnight services at the Ashcroft Community Health Centre and the Slocan Community Health Centre in New Denver remain reduced to stabilize daytime services in those communities.

“While staffing is not stable enough to safely restore all services next week, we are pleased to take initial steps and resume non-urgent elective surgeries for people throughout Interior Health. We will be rescheduling postponed procedures to catch up with the backlog as quickly as possible,” Brown said.

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