B.C.’s health ministry is transferring severely ill COVID-19 patients from the Northern Health region to southern hospitals to deal with significantly higher rates of infection and the pressure on smaller facilities.
“The north is being overstretched by COVID-19,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday, despite high vaccination rates in communities such as Kitimat, Terrace, Nisga’a and Haida Gwaii.
The numbers are small, with 12 intensive care patients transferred as of Monday, but the rate is significantly higher and occurs in mainly rural areas where vaccination rates are the lowest in the province. The rate of new cases is 41 per 100,000 people is in the Northern Health region, compared to 19 in Interior Health, 11 in Fraser Health and nine on Vancouver Island, Dix said Sept. 21.
The health ministry is assigning 15 intensive care beds in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to accept transfers of severely ill people from Northern Health, to deal with the situation at University Hospital in Prince George and Fort St. John Hospital, which has an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in areas of the hospital. There are also ongoing outbreaks at the Site C dam project near Fort St. John and at Jubilee Lodge in Prince George.
Dix said maintaining sufficient staff in Northern Health facilities is an ongoing problem, and “we cannot keep asking people to do more.” As with the rest of the province, most of the people in hospital and intensive care are not fully vaccinated, he said.
Dix said moving patients far from their homes is done with “great reluctance,” and scheduled surgeries continue to be postponed around the province to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients.
The overall vaccination rate in Northern Health is 75 per cent with first dose and 65 per cent fully vaccinated, significantly lower than other parts of the province. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said access in remote parts of B.C. is one issue, as well as complacency after a long period when the region saw very few cases. There are also “faith and community leaders actively against vaccination,” and social media spreading false information is a factor, Henry said.