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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Fraser Health officials talk pandemic stress, surge planning and vaccine challenges

COVID Exclusive: Fraser Health officials talk pandemic stress, surge planning and vaccine challenges

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Bob Mackin

If the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic worsens, B.C. Children’s Hospital may be treating adults like Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“We, in the last couple phases, have been working on the provincial and Lower Mainland plans,” said Dr. Neil McLean, Fraser Health Authority’s critical care medical director. “Those discussions you’re hearing around pediatrics and stuff, we’re having multiple discussions with B.C. Children’s about whether they have a capacity to help us.”

Dr. Neil McLean (Fraser Health)

McLean was speaking on a town hall-style web conference with physicians April 12.

B.C. is experiencing an escalation of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations similar to late 2020, as variants spread across the province. For now, McLean said, hospital space and equipment are not issues, but the size of the workforce and morale are concerns.

McLean said some post-anaesthesia care unit nurses are being redeployed to work in intensive care units. In some locations, where space permits, two COVID-19 patients are being treated by the same nurse in single rooms. Fraser Health cut back, as of April 12, on five surgical slates — or the standard 7.5-hour operating room shifts — across its busiest hospitals: two at Royal Columbian,  two at Abbotsford and one at Surrey Memorial. B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix revealed that elective surgeries are being delayed for the first time since last spring, but he said there will not be across-the-board cancellations like last year.

Said McLean: “Our staff are tired, they’ve been doing this full out for over 12 months, so we’re working on trying to support that strength in getting to this last few months that we need to hopefully before we can get that herd immunity going. We are faring OK, but we are starting to be stretched.”

McLean said the median age for coronavirus patients in Fraser Health ICUs remains 64, but “anecdotally, I’ll tell you I feel like we’re seeing some young people, so that median may drop in the next little bit.”

Meanwhile, he warned that patients receiving their first dose of vaccine must remain vigilant.

“I can tell you 100% that people are not fully covered up until 14 days, because I have seen COVID-positive patients in the ICU who are less that 14 days after their vaccine,” McLean said. “So, I haven’t seen it beyond 14 days, but definitely there is that dangerous window of people who have been vaccinated but are not immune. We do have those patients in our ICU, for sure.”

Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee (BC Gov)

Fraser Health has the capacity to jab 10,000 people a day, but could do 20,000 if it had enough supplies from Pfizer and Moderna.

Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee said more work is being done to vaccinate healthcare workers after a slow start.

“Some of the sites we’ve seen a significant improvement from the initial uptake of 45%-55%, to now much more in the herd immunity arena of 75%, to some at 95%,” Lee said on the conference call. “There has been quite a significant effort to increase immunization rates amongst our staff and leaders, our medical staff that work in clinical settings or that visit clinical settings regularly.”

Lee referred to “some pockets” (but only specified the long term care sector) that “do not have the immunization uptake that we would like to see.”

“We’re working through physician leadership, medical, clinical leaders as well as supervisors, managers and individual followup and communication,” Lee said.

Coronavirus outbreaks at three Fraser Health seniors care homes were announced April 1 at Chartwell Langley Gardens, April 8 at Sunset Manor and April 9 at Dufferin Care Centre.

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