Surgeries postponed, patients sent south as unvaccinated stretch northern ICUs

Five COVID patients from Northern Health — where just 65 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated — will be moved to Island Health intensive-care and high-acuity units, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday.

The province expects critical-care pressure in northern B.C. to continue, requiring additional bed capacity in the rest of the province, said Dix. “Clearly, this is less than ideal.”

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Extra beds were identified in Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and Island Health, including 10 high-acuity or ICU beds in the Lower Mainland.

In a weekly update with Dr. Bonnie Henry — a practice resumed due to rising COVID cases — Dix said unvaccinated patients have placed ­“significant” pressure on the health-care system, resulting in patient transfers and the postponement of non-urgent ­surgeries.

From Sept. 12 to 18, health authorities postponed 511 non-urgent scheduled surgeries — including 34 in the Island Health region — due to COVID-19 pressures on hospitals, Dix said.

The bulk of those were in the Interior, including 176 in the Interior Health region and 167 in Northern Health.

“This is obviously not where we want to be during our B.C. pandemic,” said Dix. “These pressures experienced by our hospitals right now were preventable, and can still be reduced.”

Dix said it’s not a question of blaming people for being sick, “but we need people to understand” the critical importance of vaccination.

“We cannot keep asking [health care workers] to ­compensate for the devastating consequences created when ­people make the decision not to get vaccinated.”

In Northern Health, vaccination rates range from 95 per cent in Kitimat down to 50 per cent in the region’s northeast. The health region has more cases per 100,000 than any other.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested complacency could be one reason, since northern B.C. for the longest time didn’t have a high number of cases.

Initially in the pandemic, Vancouver Coastal had the highest number of cases, followed by Fraser Health. More recently, Interior Health saw a spike in cases resulting in heightened restrictions.

Now, Northern Health is struggling, and the Island Health region is seeing some of its highest daily case counts of the pandemic. On Monday, 27 people were in hospital with COVID in Island Health, including 16 in intensive care at the Island’s designated COVID hospitals, Royal Jubilee Hospital, Victoria General Hospital and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. It hasn’t yet been determined which Island hospitals will receive patients from Northern Health.

Dix said at this time patients won’t be accepted from Alberta, which has asked for help.

On Sunday, 307 people were in hospital with COVID-19 in B.C. Of those, 156 were in intensive care — 138 of whom were unvaccinated.

All health-care workers in long-term care homes and assisted living must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12 while the deadline for workers in hospitals is Oct. 26.

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