CEO and president of Interior Health Susan Brown answers questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and what it means for hospitals, care homes and residents in the Interior region.
Black Press Media was given a limited amount of time to speak with Brown and ask questions on subjects that residents living in the Interior Health are pressing for answers.
Q: Have any Interior Health (IH) health-care workers tested positive? If so, how many?
Susan Brown: As you know, that’s not information we’re giving out. The reason for not divulging positive testing is obviously for privacy and we want people to be able to come forward and feel free and safe to come forward and be tested.
Q: Does IH have the resources to handle severe cases?
Brown: We’ve been doing a lot of preparatory work over the last few weeks. The very difficult decision to not do elective surgery in the province has allowed the occupancy of our hospitals to drop and [increase] the utilization of our intensive care units.
Right now we’re sitting at roughly 58 per cent occupancy in our hospitals and all of those staff that normally manage 100 per cent occupancy in some instances, are freed up to help intensive care to the best of our abilities.
Italy was 110 per cent on average in their hospitals when this virus hit them, so we’re in a very different position.
Q: Is there anything that suggests those newly vacant beds will be filled up with COVID-19 cases or is it just precautionary?
Brown: There was modelling done, as you may have seen in the technical briefing with media by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix. That modelling, we’ve used the worst-case scenario and B.C. is preparing against that. There’s nothing on the horizon to indicate it will be that bad but obviously we are preparing for the worst to ensure we are able to respond to the worst.
Q: How many ventilators does IH have in its supply ?
Brown: We do have, on a day-to-day basis, the ability to carry up to 55 patients in our ICU’s, I believe. We can definitely expand way beyond that — we have got additional ventilators and anesthetic machines that can work as ventilators as required. We have partnerships with educational facilities that actually train some of our professionals on ventilators, which they have given to us on a lending scenario for this particular crisis.
We could swell to a lot more; almost three times as much as we have today.
Q: Do you have enough PPE for staff to continue seniors’ home care?
Brown: You’ll have heard lots of things around protective equipment and our supply chain for British Columbia. Obviously globally, everybody is going after the same equipment and that is something our provincial health services authority is the lead in the province to ensure chain supply is there. We are working, as a province, with different vendors to open up different channels to ensure we don’t get short of PPE in the province. As it stands today, in Interior Health we have what we need right now.
Q: Do all regional hospitals in IH have the capacity yet to test for COVID-19?
Brown: We are not testing in the hospitals, per se. We have 14 testing areas that are outside the hospital and the reason for that is we don’t people just showing up at the emergency room. The message to the public is to take the self-assessment test on the BCCDC website and if you believe you need the test then call ahead and we will arrange a time for you to come in and be tested.
Worst-case scenario is somebody could call an emergency department if needed and we will arrange for them to come into a room that’s not sitting among all the other people waiting in the emergency.
Q: Is the testing service readily available in every community?
Brown: We have 14 across Interior Health and we have 60 communities, so there’s not one in every community. As I said, if it’s not nearby you, you can call ahead to the emergency department and they will make arrangements.
Q: Sources have told us they have been ‘kicked out’ of hospital beds to make room for potential COVID-19 hospitalizations. For patients that still need non-COVID care, such as prenatal care, will there be designated clinics?
Brown: There has been nobody asked to leave prematurely from our hospitals. We are caring for everybody who needs to be cared for at present and every person in our hospitals would be trying to ensure there would never be any opportunity for cross-contamination.
Q: Are you finding people in need of health care are reluctant to go to the hospital for fear of contracting the virus?
Brown: Emergency volumes are down from our usual volumes, but people are still going to the hospital if they need care.
There’s a lot of other activities you’re seeing reduced in the hospitals right now. I think people are doing exactly what they’re being asked to do and staying at home unless they have to leave home. I think it’s a combination of things.
Q: Is IH providing or considering providing accommodation for health-care workers who do not wish to go home and potentially expose their families?
Brown: We’ve heard of some instances this week where health-care providers felt they wouldn’t want to go home and be with their families.
That is something being looked into by the government because there are other essential workers that could be in the same situation.
Q: What changes have IH made to oncology departments and other areas that include immunocompromised patients?
Brown: All of these particular areas are areas that we make sure on a daily basis that we’re not having people that could be sick walking through them. What will have changed is consistent with other areas; there wouldn’t be as many people. If they normally come with a loved one who sits with them while they’re having treatment, that probably is not occurring right now.
Q: What alternate community facilities would Interior Health look to use if hospitals were to reach capacity?
Brown: Our scenario planning right now is to look at maybe going above 100 per cent in some of our hospitals because we know we have space to do it and we have other staff that have come forward — retired staff, we’ve hired a lot of students who are just graduating. We would plan to go above 100 per cent to meet the worst-case scenario.
Q: Could COVID-specific facilities be utilized to reduce potential exposure within hospitals?
Brown: We know this virus, for people who develop respiratory symptoms, can cause in some people quite quick deterioration. We wouldn’t want people who are COVID-positive that are experiencing respiratory symptoms to not have close proximity to intensive care units — in case they deteriorated.
I wouldn’t be setting up an intensive care unit outside a hospital.
Q: What’s Interior Health’s stance on those who have tested positive publicly identifying themselves on social media?
Brown: I think everybody has the right to do what they feel is right for them. In some instances, those people may feel they need some help … for others, they want to be very private.
Q: How is IH co-ordinating response with First Nations health providers?
Brown: We have 54 First Nations communities within the Interior Health boundaries. We work closely First Nations Health Authority and we do have representation of First Nations on our emergency operations ventures. We’re obviously working very close and making sure everybody gets the care they need versus working independently right now — we’re all in this together.