Interior Health has reduced two operating rooms at Kelowna General Hospital to compensate for a staffing crunch caused by the province’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers.
Due to challenges, including the loss of several unvaccinated staff who have been placed on unpaid leave, health authorities across the province have been forced to shift resources to the area of greatest need, critical care.
“Every patient whose surgery is postponed will get another call, one that tells them their surgery is being rescheduled, and they will get the surgery they need,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix during a Nov. 1 press conference.
Kelowna General Hospital has also postponed non-urgent eye-care procedures. Dix said he anticipates things to improve in short order, with one of the operating rooms reopening next week.
“And then we hope, in two weeks, the situation will improve further,” he said.
At Kamloops’s Royal Inland Hospital, Dix said “a number” of in-patient have been postponed to support the demand for critical care, “which as you know in Interior Health is high.”
As of Oct. 29, the BC Centre for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 36 people in intensive care in Interior Health.
A total of 1,018 of the Interior Health region’s 21,675 health care workers – about five per cent – are unvaccinated, the highest number in the province. They, along with more than 3,000 unvaccinated health-care workers provincewide, have been placed on unpaid leave.
“If after a two-week period, these individuals have still refused to be vaccinated, employers will move forward with termination in accordance with their collective agreements,” Ministry of Health public affairs officer Marielle Tounsi told Black Press Media on Oct. 26, the deadline for health-care workers to be vaccinated.
Asked on Monday why the numbers of unvaccinated health-care workers in the Interior are disproportionately high, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it reflects the communities in which they work.
“We’re doing a lot of work, reaching out one-on-one to each individual health-care worker to try and answer their question, understand what is the issue for different health-care workers, and it varies,” said Henry.
Ultimately, Henry said most health-care workers have supported the mandate, though some will be harder to convince.
“Some people are quite dogmatically against vaccination, which is unfortunate,” she said.
“I hear, overwhelmingly, from my colleagues that they are supportive of this, how important it is for us as health-care workers [to get vaccinated] so that we can show up. Even if it only causes a mild illness, it can have a tremendous impact if a health-care worker gets sick.”