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Island Health adjusting services to strengthen patient safety

Posted on: January 18, 2022

​Island Health has implemented several temporary service adjustments to strengthen patient care during Omicron-related COVID-19 staffing challenges. 

“Omicron-driven COVID-19 staffing challenges significantly impact the ability of Island Health staff and medical staff to provide safe, quality care for those whom we are responsible to support. While temporarily pausing or changing services has a real impact on those who have to wait longer for care, we recognize it is necessary at this most extraordinary time," said Kathy MacNeil, Island Health president and CEO.

​Service adjustments include:

Surgery and Ambulatory Care:

  • Elective, scheduled surgeries were postponed at the majority of hospitals in early January, and will continue to be postponed until the end of the month at our three largest sites (Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH), Victoria General Hospital and Royal Jubilee Hospital) while remaining sites will begin restarting where staffing levels support. The reduction of inpatient surgical services has reduced demand on inpatient beds and staffing requirements.

  • A number of ambulatory care services have been slowed down, with services maintained for those with greatest need.

  • Staffing levels at larger acute care sites are also being improved through the redeployment of ambulatory and surgical staff to areas in critical demand.  This is helping to stabilize daytime staffing hours and enabling other staff to move to weekend shifts to enhance staffing during times when it is most challenging.

Ambulance Diversions:

  • At Saanich Peninsula Hospital, Island Health recently diverted ambulances from the emergency department over five days to allow the site to have fewer inpatients to ensure a manageable staff-to-patient ratio.

  • Island Health has implemented rotating ambulance diversions at the emergency departments at Port Hardy Hospital (PHH) and Port McNeill Hospital (PMH) as required based on hospital staffing to ensure that we can support inpatient care at each site and provide emergency lab access in Northern Vancouver Island.

Staff Deployment and/or Adjusting Care Location(s):

  • Staffing levels are being adjusted on a day-to-day and shift-by-shift basis, and in advance whenever possible, to balance risk and help utilize human resources most efficiently across the system. For example, psychiatric emergency services (PES) are assessed on a shift-by-shift basis and, when necessary, new admissions to the service may be temporarily paused and patients may be temporarily cared for in the main emergency department or moved back to the main emergency department for safe care if they are already admitted to PES.

Community Health Service Appointment Contingency Planning:

  • On a daily basis, the Community Health Services program assesses services and implements contingency plans, such as rescheduling non-critical visits, for example, laundry and linen services, as necessary. This process will continue in the weeks ahead.

Amalgamation of Satellite Lab Service:

  • In order to ensure reliable, consistent acute and outpatient laboratory service, Island Health has made the decision to temporarily close the Admirals Walk outpatient lab located at 1505 Admirals Rd. effective January 17 until April 1, 2022. Patients who routinely access this location can access services at the Victoria General Hospital outpatient lab.

  • Hours have been reduced at the Sidney outpatient lab located at 2357 James White Blvd. to 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. weekdays and closing the lab temporarily on Saturdays. The Saanich Peninsula Hospital outpatient lab will re-instate Saturday hours 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Long-term Care Service Adjustments:

  • Staffing at sites is being monitored on a daily basis and contingency plans are in place to support long-term care homes, including re-scheduling activities or services to support clients and residents and shifting our staff across LTC sites as needed.

Enhanced Leadership Support:

  • This pandemic and recent Omicron wave has understandably added complexity and stress to an already overtaxed health care team. To support staff and patients during these exceptional times, additional leadership supports have been put in place on weekends, evenings and through the on-call structure to ensure teams have the supports in place to make decisions to support safe patient care during this challenging time.

“These are not actions we want to take, and we don't take them lightly knowing the impact they have on those we serve," said MacNeil. “We are grateful to the residents of the communities of Vancouver Island for their understanding and continued support of our health care teams during this challenging time. 

"We also acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of our teams who continue to work tirelessly to ensure patients receive the highest quality care possible despite these challenges."