Omicron variant causes staffing challenges, changes to Island Health services

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Island Health has shortened laboratory hours, postponed some surgeries and moved staff around as the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant significantly impacts staffing across the health authority. 

With 2,095 active cases and 275 new cases reported across the Island Health region on Jan. 19, the health authority explained that staffing challenges driven by the spread of the Omicron variant are forcing several temporary service changes. In the region there are currently 60 people hospitalized with COVID-19, seven of those are in critical care according to data from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

“While temporarily pausing or changing services has a real impact on those who have to wait longer for care, we recognize it is necessary at this most extraordinary time,” Kathy MacNeil, Island Health president and CEO, stated in a Jan. 18 news release

“These are not actions we want to take, and we don’t take them lightly knowing the impact they have on those we serve.”

Temporary changes include postponing elective, scheduled surgeries at the majority of hospitals, which was done in early January and will continue until the end of the month at Victoria General, Royal Jubilee and Nanaimo Regional General hospitals. 

Some labs on Vancouver Island have either been temporarily closed or have had their hours reduced, including the Sidney outpatient lab. The Lady Minto Hospital medical lab will be open Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 12 noon only, with these hours until Feb. 28. 

Some ambulatory care services, the care provided on an outpatient basis, are being slowed down. The services that are ongoing are for those with the greatest need. 

“Staffing levels are being adjusted on a day-to-day and shift-by-shift basis, and in advance whenever possible, to balance risk and help utilize human resources most efficiently across the system,” Island Health explained. 

Staff are being deployed from surgical and ambulatory areas to areas where they are more critically needed. In long-term care homes, contingency plans are in place that allow for staff to move across sites if needed. 

Island Health stated that “additional leadership supports” have also been added on evenings and weekends as well as on-call to ensure healthcare teams have the support to give “safe patient care during this challenging time.” 

Salt Spring Island reported 29 cases of COVID-19 between Jan. 11 and 17, compared to 27 the week prior. Across the other Southern Gulf Islands, five cases were reported last week, compared to seven the week prior. 

Salt Spring’s COVID-19 testing facility moved earlier this month from the hospital to Meaden Hall. Isolation and testing protocols have also changed in response to the rapid spread and short incubation period of the Omicron variant.

PCR testing is being recommended only to those who have specific symptoms and are at the highest risk, meaning they are over 65 or have underlying illnesses or severe symptoms. At-home testing is also being provided at certain testing sites. 

The health authority recommends to follow BCCDC guidelines for whether to get tested, and call Island Health’s testing line at 1-844-901-8442.

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