Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater is one of several Interior Health care centres impacted by service reductions. File photo

Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater is one of several Interior Health care centres impacted by service reductions. File photo

Rural health service reductions to last up to 4 weeks: Interior Health president

Susan Brown says emergency room access is being prioritized

Interior Health president Susan Brown says service reductions caused by COVID-19 staff infections in rural communities are expected to last up to four weeks.

The health authority announced Tuesday that inpatient services would temporarily close in Clearwater, Invermere and Lillooet. Overnight hours would also be reduced at health care centres in New Denver, Ashcroft and Barriere.

Brown said Wednesday the changes are being made to keep emergency rooms open due to staff sickness.

“Our goal is to ensure there’s sustainable access to care, and then if somebody needs admitting from those communities they would go to an alternative hospital.”

Health minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday that nearly 18,000 health-care workers across B.C. had required at least one sick day between Jan. 10 to 16.

Brown confirmed COVID-19 and the recent Omicron surge were the reasons for staff sickness, but wasn’t able to say how many Interior Health employees had been impacted.

The ones who are healthy, she said, are being redeployed where necessary. In Clearwater, for example, Brown said staff who work at the in-patient unit will shift over to assist the emergency room.

Interior Health has also begun rescheduling non-urgent elective surgeries that were to have taken place. Brown said approximately 2,800 surgeries will require rescheduling if the service reductions last four weeks.

“We know these are medically necessary procedures and we will do everything we can to get that service re-established quickly.”

Brown stressed the changes are temporary, and are being done to ensure emergency rooms remain open.

“I think it’s really important that people know this decision wasn’t taken lightly. We know that rural healthcare is so important in the Interior and we’ll do everything to get in-patient units opened up as quickly as possible.”

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@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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