Rising COVID hospitalizations force delay of some non-urgent surgeries

Some surgeries postponed

With COVID-19 hospitalizations rising across B.C., surgeries in nine Lower Mainland hospitals will be postponed for at least the next two weeks. But Interior hospitals will not be impacted for the time being.

Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that with a record high 502 COVID-19 hospitalizations across the province, five Vancouver Coastal Health and four Fraser Health hospitals will be postponing non-urgent surgeries for at least the next two weeks.

Dix said the move is expected to delay about 1,750 surgeries.

“Especially in the past two weeks, COVID-19 cases in hospitals have been increasing across the Lower Mainland, and indeed across B.C.,” Dix said.

“The need to staff surge capacity means that we'll need to reduce some services. We know our hospitals have room but the surge capacity is staffed with healthcare workers from other areas ... Our critical care and ICU staff are tired, it's been a long, long year and they need some relief.”

A similar move was made across the entire province last spring.

But Interior Health's vice-president of pandemic response Karen Bloemink said the health authority has yet not been forced to delay any surgeries in recent months, save for small interruptions due to some hospital outbreaks. There are currently 32 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Interior, including 11 in ICU.

Bloemink noted this is a busy time of year for hospitals even during pre-pandemic times.

Earlier this week, the province said IH hospitals are at about 98 per cent capacity, while they're using about 25 per cent of its surge bed capacity.

“Part of our typical approach when we are managing day-to-day utilization in our hospitals is to adapt the usage of the beds that we do have, given the demand that is on our plate on any given day, and sometimes that might include using surge beds,” Bloemink said, addressing the use of surge capacity beds in the Interior.

But in the Lower Mainland, Dix also put out a call for more critical care nurses.

“Lower Mainland health authorities are asking staff who are specialty trained in critical care and currently working in community settings, to return to hospital ICU settings on a voluntary basis,” Dix said.

While new COVID-19 case numbers appear to be decreasing in recent days, hospitalizations are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks, as hospitalization numbers generally lag behind rising case counts.

“We are going to see more people in hospitals over the next few weeks, but as we see things start to slow down, we expect that we'll see hospitalizations start to slow down, but it's at the point now where we've had to stop scheduled surgeries so that we can give people what they need to be able to care for people in hospitals right now,” Dr. Henry said.

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