Health officials in British Columbia have shared details of their $1.58 billion strategy for managing the COVID-19 pandemic during cold and flu season.
Premier John Horgan said the funding, which includes $850 million that was previously announced for boosted contact-tracing capacity and several other measures, will put the province in a strong position heading into fall and winter.
"This will mean 7,000 jobs for health-care support workers in long-term care and assisted living facilities, a significant expansion of the province's flu and immunization plan, as well as the launch of a new program that's particularly exciting: the Hospital at Home program," Horgan said Thursday.
The $42 million Hospital at Home program is designed to let certain patients receive care without going into a busy hospital, where they could be exposed to COVID-19 or the flu. This is especially important for seniors and other vulnerable populations, the premier said.
Officials haven't specified who else might be eligible for Hospital at Home care.
Other items in B.C.'s massive COVID-19 operating budget include everything from $58 million earmarked for improved health care access in rural and Indigenous communities to $34 million for overtime pay for nurses.
There's also $22 million to fund an extra 633 hospital beds and stretchers as the province braces for an expected influx of patients over the coming months, many of whom won't be sick with the coronavirus.
Historical data shared by the government shows just how much hospital admissions spike during winter in a normal, non-pandemic year. In 2018, the number of patients admitted to critical care units due to respiratory illnesses shot up from an estimated average of 58 in October to 103 in December.
The number of those patients admitted to acute care is much higher, sometimes topping 1,000 during the winter months.
One way the province hopes to prevent overcrowding is by encouraging more people to get vaccinated against the flu. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has ordered 1.96 million vaccine doses this year – about 450,000 more than usual – in the hopes there will be higher demand in B.C., as was recently reported in Australia and New Zealand during their respiratory seasons.
A whopping $417 million of the budget is going into community care and long-term care facilities, including $122 million that's expected to pay for an average of three new staff members per care home to "support infection prevention and control."
Some $785 million is going to increased capacity in the system, which will cover everything from $$146 million for personal protective equipment to $188 million for additional surgical capacity.
The $1.58 billion also covers the previously announced increase to COVID-19 testing capacity. The province is aiming for 20,000 tests per day, up from about 6,000 now.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government also believes its contact-tracing capabilities will be expanded even more than previously though. While B.C. said it was planning to add 500 staff members, Dix said it will likely be closer to 600.