Island Health reducing services due to Omicron staffing challenges

Island Health says it is adjusting its service levels due to staffing shortages that have been largely caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Some of the changes include diverting ambulances to less busy hospitals, redeploying ambulatory and surgical staff to areas with critical demand, and continuing to suspended non-urgent surgeries at Island Health's three largest sites: Victoria General Hospital, Royal Jubilee Hospital, and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Elective surgeries have been postponed until the end of the month, with other hospitals restarting non-urgent surgeries where staffing levels allow.

"The reduction of inpatient surgical services has reduced demand on inpatient beds and staffing requirements," said Island Health in a release Tuesday.


In order to reduce demand on staff at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, Island Health recently diverted ambulances from the facility's emergency department over five days "to have fewer inpatients to ensure a manageable staff-to-patient ratio."

Ongoing ambulance diversions are in place on the North Island, with ambulances being diverted away from emergency departments at Port Hardy Hospital and Port McNeill Hospital, depending on staffing levels at each site.

"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," said Island Health.

The health authority cites its psychiatric emergency services (PES) as an example of ongoing service changes.

On a shift-by-shift basis, PES may not accept new admissions and instead direct them to emergency departments. Current patients may also be moved to the ER for care during this 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 Kathy MacNeil, Island Health president and CEO, in a statement Tuesday.


Island Health says it is monitoring staffing levels at long-term care sites on a daily basis.

The health authority notes that it has "contingency plans" to ensure continuity of care at the care homes, such as moving staff between facilities, or rescheduling activities and services.

With staffing levels impacted across the health-care system, Island Health says it has added "leadership supports" to offer guidance during weekend, evening, and on-call hours.

The supports will help facilities "make decisions to support safe patient care during this challenging time."

The health authority notes that it has temporarily closed its outpatient lab at 1505 Admirals Rd. and is asking clients to visit Victoria General Hospital for service instead. The closure is in place from Jan. 17 until April 1.

Service hours have also been reduced at the Sidney outpatient lab located at 2357 James White Blvd. to 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. The facility is also temporarily closed on Saturdays until further notice.

Island Health says that outpatient lab services have restarted at Saanich Peninsula Hospital on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"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," said MacNeil.

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