Two operating rooms at Kelowna General Hospital have been temporarily closed while inpatient surgeries in Kamloops have been postponed as health officials grapple with the fallout of the healthcare worker vaccine mandate.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday morning 1,018 healthcare workers in the Interior Health region, five per cent of the workforce, remain unvaccinated and are on unpaid leave.
That is a reduction from 1,369 employees and seven per cent of the workforce on Oct. 26, the day the mandate went into effect.
Most other health authorities have staff unvaxxed rates of around two per cent, meaning the healthcare worker vaccine mandate has “principally” been a challenge in the IH region, said Dix.
Kelowna General Hospital has closed two operating rooms this week due to unvaccinated staff, Dix said, adding next week they expect one of those rooms to reopen.
“Then we hope in two weeks, the situation will improve further,” he said.
KGH has also postponed non-urgent eye-care procedures to respond to “critical-care planning needs.”
At Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops “a number” of inpatient surgeries have been postponed and replaced by same-day surgeries to support demand in critical care.
Hours have also been reduced this week at the South Similkameen Health Centre in Keremeos where a "large percentage" of what is a relatively small staffing group for the facility are not working due to being unvaccinated.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and minister Dix were asked why they thought healthcare vaccination rates are so much lower in the IH region when compared to the rest of B.C.
“I think that the health care workers reflect the communities that they work in and we're seeing that in the numbers and the percentages, both in the north and in the interior,” Henry said.
She said they are reaching out to unvaccinated healthcare workers individually to try to understand why they won’t get vaccinated. Some are unfortunately “dogmatically” opposed to vaccines.
Termination looms for healthcare workers who don’t get the jab by Nov. 15. Dr. Henry suggested she is not concerned about losing those workers permanently.
“If now is not the time that you start to believe in the value and importance of vaccination and protecting people, then I don’t know when is,” Henry said. “So if people are in our healthcare system and not recognizing the importance of vaccination, then this is probably not the right profession for them.”
Dix, meanwhile, highlighted the fact that 95 per cent — an overwhelming majority — of healthcare workers in Interior Health are partially or fully vaccinated.
He said Interior Health is doing a very good job managing the situation. Healthcare workers are being moved around the region and province to support facilities that are seeing staffing shortages due to the mandate.
"This is a real challenge to deal with. But at the same time, outstanding care continues to be delivered in Interior Health," Dix said.