Change is in the air—and the province is preparing for it.
Following B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s changes to health orders for nightlife venues yesterday, the B.C. government revealed details today (September 9) about how the province will prepare the healthcare system for the respiratory virus season—something Henry has repeatedly warned about—during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a news conference alongside B.C. Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix, Henry said the plan will focus on bolstering public health, protection for vulnerable individuals, and the healthcare system.
The plan will focus on five main areas: minimizing transmission and managing the healthcare system (so both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients can be treated), while balancing those concerns with the physical and mental health needs of patients and all British Columbians, the rebuilding of the economy, and family and community connections.
While B.C. previously relied upon comparisons to various scenarios in other parts of the world (China’s Hubei province, Northern Italy, and South Korea) in the first phase of the pandemic, this new plan is based upon what has been learned in B.C. over the past few months.
Premier Horgan announced that the provincial government will provide $1.6 billion to fund an autumn and winter preparedness plan to boost healthcare measures for COVID-19.
"The actions we are taking today are a big step to help protect everyone in our province as we head into the fall, and in doing that, will also help lessen the impact the pandemic has had on our economy,” Horgan said.
Among the various aspects of the plan is an innovative program to provide healthcare at home, as well as potential employment opportunities not only for healthcare workers but for those in hospitality industries.
Public health measures
The plan will support seniors in long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities by ensuring more British Columbians obtain a flu shot, and aims to reduce potential COVID-19 transmission in B.C. hospitals.
Henry said the autumn influenza campaign (for which $18.8 million will be provided) will be “on a scale that we have not yet seen, to further protect people who are vulnerable in this province”. She said that everyone over the age of six months should be immunized for influenza.
The government will allocate $374 million for public-health measures, including 45,000 fluzone high dose immunizations—a higher dose influenza vaccine to protect people over 65 years old—for all longterm care and assisted-living residents.
An additional 450,000 influenza vaccine doses will be made available for the coming autumn and winter, bringing the total to about two million doses.
The Hospital at Home program (which has been used in other parts of the world) will be launched with $42.3 million in provincial funding that will provide patients with care at home rather than at hospitals through in-person and virtual visits. The program will alleviate pressure on hospitals while reducing possible COVID-19 exposure or transmission.
In preparing for critical care and acute medical care bed capacities, public health prepared four potential COVID-19 scenarios, ranging from low cases (based on June numbers) and moderate to high (based on March to May high levels) and high-plus (an extreme scenario with twice as many cases as March to May).
Preparations will focus on bed capacities at 19 hospitals, and only use additional sites in extreme circumstances.
Surge capacity can be added throughout autumn if required.
Healthcare and hospitality
While the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry hard, the B.C. government is providing an opportunity for struggling workers to consider a career change.
The provincial government will use $44.1 million to launch the Health Career Access Program to recruit approximately 7,000 healthcare workers for longterm care homes and assisted-living facilities.
About 3,000 applicants who don’t have previous healthcare work experience will begin in a support worker position and receive paid on-the-job training that will provide full qualifications as a healthcare assistant.
"We're looking to people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, particularly those who were employed in the hospitality industry,” Horgan said. “They understand service. They understand the importance of treating people as individuals and they know it's essential to treat people with respect and dignity. Those critical core skills, with our specialized training, will provide them with a rewarding, well-paying career that will make a significant and positive impact on our health-care system and the seniors who rely on it.”
After the B.C. government announced on August 12 that it would hire about 600 more healthcare professional for contact tracing, 86 individuals have been hired so far and about 200 are being interviewed.
Due to testing for both COVID-19 and influenza, Henry said that lab capacities will be expanded to 20,000 tests per day and that this increase will “a challenge” for numerous reasons, including a global shortage of reagents.
For today's daily B.C. COVID-19 update, see this article.