Photo: BC gov. Flickr
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Secretary of Health Adrian Dix.
The increasing number of people with severe COVID-19 symptoms emphasizes ICU capabilities in the North and patients have been transferred to other regions to ensure adequate intensive care services can be provided in Northern Health, a spokesman said .
“We see an increasing need for hospitalizations and patients in need of critical care,” said Eryn Collins, media relations manager at Northern Health.
On December 4, 39 people with COVID-19 were admitted to Northern Health, with 11 of those patients in intensive care. Nearly 70 percent of the total 101 hospital admissions in Northern Health have occurred in the past 34 days.
“We still have the capacity to provide critical care in our northern system,” said Eryn Collins. “But we are also seeing an increase in that level of need, so we are using that capacity elsewhere in the province.”
Recently, two patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were transferred to a hospital in Vancouver Island.
“It is very important in some of our regional hospitals, such as Mills Memorial, that we ensure that there is adequate ICU capacity in the event of other conditions that arise,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on December 3. “For example, the potential – especially this time of year – of a major accident on the highway.”
According to the Department of Health, on Nov. 30, 17 of the 41 ICU and intensive care beds in Northern Health were empty and an additional 23 surge beds could be deployed as needed.
Northern Health has the fewest beds of any health authority, but it also has the smallest population.
“Capacity and occupancy varies, not just for us, but for every health region in the province,” says Collins.
The ministry’s latest count indicated that two of the five beds were not occupied at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace; three of the four ICU beds were empty at Fort St. John; eight of the 23 beds were empty at the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George, and four of the 9 beds were open in the rest of the north. According to Northern Health, there were also 100 fans in the region.
“Patients are moved where necessary,” said Dix. “Sometimes from the north to Vancouver Island or Metro Vancouver.”
The ability to transfer patients between health authorities is a vital aspect of the government’s pandemic response plan released in March by Dix, Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown and provincial health official Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“At the time, it was made clear that this was the potential we would be looking at if we started to see a certain trajectory of COVID activity and hospitalizations,” said Collins. “And we, along with the rest of the province, see those increases.”
About 56 percent of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the North (and in BC) had done so since Oct. 31. Provincially, nearly 50 percent of all hospital admissions have occurred in the last month or so.
On December 4, 978 people had tested positive in Northern Health, while 36,132 people had been provincially diagnosed.
Despite the added pressure from COVID-19 patients on the health care system, the county continues to have a 76 percent occupancy rate in its intensive care beds. When curbs are factored into the ICU count, the occupancy rate drops to less than 65 percent, Dix said.
The province-wide pandemic strategy outlined how the health care system would maintain 17 COVID-19 care sites and ensure adequate capacity in a range of potential pandemic scenarios. The plan revealed the number of acute care beds, ICU-type beds, fans, and additional surge beds that could be deployed to meet evolving healthcare demands across BC during the pandemic.
“We, like the rest of the province, are using the provincial health capacity… to ensure that we can continue to meet everyone’s needs, not just COVID-related,” said Collins.
Patients are often transported to other regions for specialized treatment, such as heart care in Vancouver or other reasons not related to COVID-19, Collins said.
“That’s something that happens all the time in healthcare,” said Dix. “What you see is that the public health system works as it should in a pandemic.”