British Columbia

Some communities across B.C. lose health-care services as Omicron cuts into staffing

Health-care services in several communities around B.C. are being cut as medical workers are redeployed to deal with staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant.

Interior Health said the decision was made to sustain essential services around the region

Northern Health announced temporary service adjustments — including the postponement of surgeries at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia, pictured here — with some medical staff being reassigned to ensure essential services. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Health-care services in several communities around B.C. are being cut as medical workers are redeployed to deal with staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant.

Interior Health has closed inpatient services in Lillooet, Clearwater, and Invermere, reduced overnight hours at the Ashcroft Community Health Centre and the Slocan Community Health Centre in New Denver, and closed the Barriere and District Health Centre to redeploy staff to nearby emergency departments.

Interior Health CEO Susan Brown said the decision was made to sustain essential services around the region and normal operations will be restored as soon as possible.

"Our rationale for doing this is to stabilize the care," Brown said. "Our doors are open. The emergency departments — we're doing everything in our ability to stabilize them to ensure that if you need care in that community, you have a door to walk through or there will be staff to take care of you."

The mayor of one of the affected communities said he was shocked by the news and called the decision to redirect resources elsewhere "irresponsible."

"We've had disruptions in service as have a lot of the other smaller communities and I get it," Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer said. 

"With COVID and some of the things that have happened, all of a sudden they don't have a person today and they've got to shut an emergency room down or they've got to shut coverage down. I totally understand. But for them to arbitrarily say, 'We're going to shut it down for a month because we don't have enough nursing staff' is totally unacceptable."

LISTEN | Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer on the closure of the community's health centre

Interior Health has made some major changes to a number of interior hospitals and health centres because of staffing shortages due to Omicron. The Mayor of Barriere, Ward Stamer, says that's putting people at risk.

 

Stamer said a shutdown means residents may have to travel to Kamloops for care, putting pressure on ambulance services and that city's emergency department. He suggests keeping the health centre open but on a reduced schedule may be a better option. 

Brown said inpatient services are being reduced in some rural areas.

"The reason for doing that is to ensure that the emergency departments remain open and that people have local and easy access to care, and then if they require inpatient care, we'll get them to a different hospital for that care," she said.

Brown said the situation will be assessed on a daily basis.

"My hope is we're in the thick of this right now with this wave of illness and that soon we will start to see some reduction [in illness]," Brown said.

"If, of course, a lot more staff got sick and people weren't coming back to the workplace, then we would have to look at something different."

Changes in Northern Health

Northern Health also announced temporary service adjustments with some medical staff being reassigned to ensure essential services.

Dozens of surgeries will be postponed in Hazelton, Bulkley Valley, the northeast, and University Hospital of Northern British Columbia.

Several long-term care homes will reduce beds and stop admitting patients. Home care that's not urgent will be cancelled and services in many clinics and labs will be reduced.

Special teams are heading to Hazelton and Burns Lake, communities that are the most affected.

Wilf Adam, former chief of the Lake Babine Nation and a Northern Health board member, says health-care workers in Burns Lake are getting sick. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Wilf Adam, former chief of the Lake Babine Nation and a Northern Health board member, says health-care workers in Burns Lake are getting sick.

"Our health facilities, they have to deal with this … day in, day out and we're losing some of them for a week or so due to this variant," Adam said.

Gordon Sebastian, who lives in Gitanmaax near Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, says first responders are taking sick people to the small local hospital then to bigger hospitals.

"If you travel down the road … we're always passing the ambulances," he said. "They're busy."

With files from Betsy Trumpener

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