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Interior Health staff shortages easing, but surgeries still postponed

Interior Health’s chief executive officer says they are beginning to see light at the end of the Omicron tunnel that has forced the postponement of elective surgeries and other service reductions.

“I do believe we have peaked now where sick calls and our [COVID] positivity rates are starting to come down slightly,” Susan Brown said Thursday in a Zoom call with regional media.

“I hope that we’re over that peak now and this would be looking towards the next week or two getting back to usual service.”

Interior Health announced service reductions that took effect Jan. 19, expected to last up to four weeks.

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Brown says about 1,200 surgeries have been postponed so far, and if the situation continues for the full four weeks, they would expect 2,700 surgeries to be put off.

“We will prioritize them to be rescheduled as soon as we get services back up and running,” she said. I know these surgeries are medically necessary.

However, she said in the same time frame, they have still been able to do approximately 2,800 urgent surgeries.

When elective surgeries do resume, she said they will likely be phased in, not fully restored all at once.

Brown said Interior Health’s staff sick calls have been “far beyond” what they normally see in a flu/cold season, peaking at almost 900 people per day at the worst times, and sitting about 800 on an average day. That is about one-third higher than any other year, she said, attributing the difference to the Omicron variant.

Additionally, she said they lost some staff due to provincial orders requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated. “Two things happening within a short period that made it challenging for staffing,” she said.

Brown says they are “aggressively” recruiting new staff and offering jobs to every graduating student nurse this year.

Locally, Interior Health initially announced that it would temporarily close inpatient services in Invermere to stabilize other areas in East Kootenay, but reversed that decision a few days later.

“During first week became evident things were somewhat stable, so we did not reduce inpatient beds,” Brown said.

“It’s been challenging because staffing has not been what it was, but East Kootenay is in a relatively stable state compared to other areas. They’re doing okay.”

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