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B.C. to reactivate its COVID emergency operations centres to prepare for more illness

Expected surge in flu, respiratory illness and COVID cases behind the move at 20 major locations
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pauses during a news conference with his provincial counterparts after the second of two days of meetings, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

As the number of patients in British Columbia hospitals spikes, with the typical post-holiday surge still to come, the province’s health minister said it will reactivate 20 emergency operation centres initially set up to deal with COVID-19.

“In the Christmas period when there was less activity in acute care hospitals, we were high relative to where we ordinarily are at that time of the year, and as hospitals have resumed, that number has got higher over the last week,” Adrian Dix told a news conference Friday.

“This proactive step will provide more supports and co-ordinated response during periods of expected additional pressure on our hospitals.”

Dix said January is usually a period of “constant demand” as illnesses spread during the holiday period in December and surgeries resume in the new year, but resources are already stretched thin.

There were 10,226 patients in B.C.’s hospitals on Friday, a six per cent jump from 9,637 on New Year’s Eve.

Dix said B.C. has 9,202 base hospital beds as well as 2,478 “surge” beds, or beds that need extra resources to operate.

He said the occupancy rate was 88 per cent of the province’s total hospital beds, but 111 per cent of base bed capacity, “which is significant and high.”

The centres, which will be used to deal with an expected surge in flu, respiratory illness and COVID cases, will be reactivated starting Monday. Dix said they will help ensure there is space for those needing it in the coming weeks.

“It’s not a question of it going higher,” Dix said, referring to the number of people in hospital. “We need to manage the situation that we have and then create space, potentially, and ensure that we have space for people who need care.”

Emergency operation centres were part of the provincial response to the pandemic, and were used during wildfire and extreme weather events, including the recent extreme cold weather and snowstorms.

Staff at the centres will help patients who are ready to be discharged in an attempt to reduce overall hospital occupancy and ensure emergency departments have patient care beds available.

Dix said the centres will be in place for at least six weeks.

“We will monitor progress and will continue to work with health authorities to adapt plans and efforts as needed. These actions will ensure we are prepared for any increase in demand for hospital care.”

Dix said the three years of the pandemic have put health-care workers through the grinder.

“It has been unrelenting,” he said.

“People have been working like this for years and they need our support, and they’ll get it, but it’s very, very challenging for them.”

Hospitals where emergency operation centres will be established are Abbotsford Regional, Royal Columbian, Surrey Memorial, East Kootenay Regional, Kelowna General, Kootenay Boundary Regional, Penticton Regional, Royal Inland, Vernon Jubilee, Fort St. John & Peace Villa, Mills Memorial, University Hospital of Northern BC, BC Children’s, Lions Gate, Richmond, St. Paul’s, Vancouver General, Nanaimo Regional General, Royal Jubilee and Victoria General.

—Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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