Kitimat General Hospital. (Photo Northern Health)

Kitimat General Hospital. (Photo Northern Health)

Northern Health preparing ‘for a changing situation’ in response to COVID-19

The health authority is taking a number of measures to free up hospital capacity where possible

The provincial regional health authority says despite 2018-2019 figures showing a number of hospitals in Northern B.C. were, on average, operating at over 100 per cent capacity that they are taking steps to prepare for potential impacts of COVID-19 over the coming weeks and months.

In an emailed statement to Black Press Media Northern Health’s communications lead for capital projects Andrea Palmer said fundamental changes are being made across the province to help hospital facilities prepare for any potential impacts as the virus spreads.

This includes postponing non-urgent scheduled surgeries, and having doctors assess patients in acute care to see if it’s possible they can be discharged to create additional acute care capacity where necessary.

READ MORE: Two COVID-19 patients now in self-isolation at home in Northern Health region

On a local level, Palmer said all hospitals, long term care facilities and other Northern Health sites are making plans and taking precautions under the guidance of provincial direction to mitigate any potential impact of COVID-19. This includes informing patients, residents and families of the plans in place.

“Our focus right now is ensuring that everyone has and understands the current public health advice for reducing risk of infection and preventing the spread of illness, including hand hygiene, social distancing and isolation,” she said. “We will make every effort to inform a given broader community about specific or unique measures and changes to procedures or operational work that may affect the general public.”

Statistics for the region show a number of hospitals were, on average, operating 100 per cent capacity for the year of 2018-2019, which is the most recently available data online and is available at the bottom of this article.

In those figures on occupancy rates at hospitals across the province, Mills Memorial Hospital (MMH) and Kitimat General Hospital (KGH) were both at over 100 per cent capacity at 116 per cent and 115.4 per cent respectively.

In the time since those statistics were released Palmer said Northern Health has made a number of efforts to improve the flow of patients and reduce pressures on the hospital system. She added that it’s important to remember patient numbers are fluid and change daily.

Black Press Media reached out to Northern Health to inquire about the number of total intensive care unit (ICU) beds at each of their hospitals but were told that the healthcare provider was unable to release this information due to privacy reasons. The healthcare provider did tell Black Press Media that they have a total of 571 acute care beds in the health region, which serves over 300,000 people in an area of approximately 600,000 square kilometers. They added that ongoing measures are being undertaken by the Province to increase this number.

In a March. 27 press conference Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the actions that the Province has taken, including the aforementioned postponement of non-essential surgery or other procedures, have freed up approximately one-third of the beds which were filled earlier in March.

At that briefing Dr. Henry noted optimism towards a curve in the rate of daily increase in infections which seemed to have slowed over the past couple of days, but added it was not yet time to start relaxing social measures aimed at stopping the virus’ spread.

“The next two weeks, in particular, are our critical time,” said Dr. Henry at the March 27 press conference.

“But what I don’t want to see, and what I lie awake at night worrying about, is that line is going to start to dramatically increase if we let [restrictions] off too quickly.”

As of March 28 at 10 a.m. PST, there are just under 630,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, with nearly 29,000 deaths. In Canada there are 4,782 confirmed cases.

New Occupancy rates
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trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com
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