The province has announced its plan to deal with potential surges of patients at B.C. hospitals due to the combination of the upcoming flu season and additional COVID-19 cases.
The plan includes additional spending of $800 million, part of a $1.6-billion package, of which half is already committed to endeavours such as the surgical restart plan, increased contact tracing, enhanced rural/remote transportation, dedicating workers to single health-care sites and more personal protective equipment.
Among the line items the remaining amount will go toward are increasing testing capacity, hiring additional long-term care staff, an enhanced flu immunization campaign and additional hospital surge capacity.
Flu vaccine campaign
The province has purchased 450,000 doses of the flu vaccine beyond its typical amount, bringing B.C.’s total for the year up to two-million doses.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in an “ideal world,” everyone would be eligible for the free vaccine, but noted there are “very few people” who are not already eligible.
For the most vulnerable patients in assisted-living and long-term care centres, the province has also procured 45,000 high-dose vaccines.
The campaign will begin in October and continue into December.
There are also plans to increase B.C.’s COVID-19 testing capacity. According to Henry, the province is currently testing at a rate of 5,000 to 6,000 per day. The plan now is to increase that testing capacity to 20,000 per day; however, those efforts may be limited by a worldwide short supply of necessary reagents, Henry said.
More health-care workers
There are also plans to embark on a hiring campaign for additional health-care aides to work in long-term care centres. Up to 5,000 new care aides will be hired, paid at $20 per hour as a health-care support worker and $23 per hour as a trained health-care assistant.
The government plans on targeting the hiring campaign at those no longer employed in the service and hospitality industries due to COVID-19. More information on that initiative can be found online at gov.bc.ca/careersinhealth.
The province also plans on introducing its Hospital at Home program to reduce the potential for transmission at acute-care centres and reduce the pressure on hospitals. The program will first begin at Victoria General Hospital and later roll out to other hospitals, according to Premier John Horgan, who announced the program on Wednesday.
The provincial government will make preparations for four fall and winter COVID-19 scenarios, all based on modelling and data collected during the first waves of the pandemic.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the plan is to continue normal operations at the province’s hospitals, including elective surgeries, which were cancelled during previous waves of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
In the “low” scenario, which mirrors the number of cases seen in B.C. in June, the province will account for 57 people in hospital, including 25 in intensive care. The “moderate” scenario would see 98 patients in hospital and 25 in critical care. In addition, there are two “high” scenarios. In the first, which would mirror the number of cases seen from March to May in B.C., the province would be prepared for 200 people in hospital and 108 in critical care. In the worst-case “high++” scenario, the province is preparing for 400 people in hospital, including 214 in critical care.
Each scenario found a deficit of available beds across the province without additional “surge” beds. Across the Interior Health region, for example, the province’s data shows a deficit of 195 normal beds and a surplus of two critical-care beds. But with additional surge beds, it shows a surplus of 33 normal beds and 26 critical care beds.
Interior Health only sees a deficit of beds (including additional surge beds) in the worst scenario, short one bed in the entire region. In this case, with other health authorities in similar or worse situations, the province plans to use other non-COVID-19 sites to make up the difference, pushing every health authority into a surplus of beds, except for on Vancouver Island, which would need to transport patients to other sites.