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Half of northern ICU patients fighting COVID-19 infections

Half of the patients reported in critical care across northern B.C. are fighting COVID-19 infections, according to new data from Northern Health.
The Fort St. John Hospital.

Half of the patients reported in critical care across northern B.C. are fighting COVID-19 infections, according to new data from Northern Health.

The health authority confirmed Wednesday that at least two COVID patients from the north needing critical care have been moved to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria for COVID-19 care.

Northern Health says that's not out of the ordinary as case numbers change daily, though the region is seeing a rise in the number of people with COVID-19 being hospitalized — 33 as of Wednesday, and 12 of them in critical care.

Patients that do end up being moved are based on care needs. They can also be transported should hospitals be understaffed, even if beds are available.

"The provincial and regional plans are in place to deliver care as we see increases in numbers of people in hospital for COVID-19, and to inform how we move people around the region and province - if that’s required," said spokesperson Eryn Collins.

"We can’t predict precisely what referral or transfer patterns may look like - especially for individual patients or locations; those decisions would be based on the care needs of a patient, and available hospital (inpatient and staffing) capacity in any given area at the time," the statement added.

As of Nov. 30, there were 24 patients in critical care beds across the north, according to Northern Health.

Twelve remained in critical care for COVID-19 as of Dec. 2, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, while another 21 people with the virus are currently hospitalized for general care.

Critical care capacity

Across the north, there are 41 critical care base beds with another 23 "surge" beds, which can be scaled up or down depending on needs. The health authority says it has 100 ventilators available to support critical care cases, while transport ventilators and other ventilators from the provincial supply are also available if needed.

Collins says each hospital in the north has a pandemic plan, which includes identifying where patients would be treated based on their care needs.

She adds it's important for the public to know that not all cases in ICU units are COVID-19 related.

Fort St. John is one of three designated hospitals for COVID patients in the north, with four critical care beds, as well as five ventilators, and four transport ventilators to support patients.

As of Monday, one ICU bed was occupied, though Collins could not say for what reason. 

Patients being transferred

Dr. David Forrest, an infectious disease and critical-care doctor who divides his time between Nanaimo and Terrace, is admitting COVID-19 patients on a daily basis to the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, “and they are swamped. Even the large hospital in Prince George is busy, he said.

"It’s not ideal to move patients hundreds of kilometres between health authorities, and “taking them away from their families and so on is awful, but the reality is that they need for their care and I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do,” said Forrest.

Forrest said there is a provincial obligation to transfer patients who need critical care if there are inadequate resources in one area.

“And I think that Northern Health would be in the same position of assisting us if we were overwhelmed.”

Across the province, there are 337 people in hospital and 79 of those in critical care.

Provincial health officer Dr. Henry reported 834 new COVID cases Wednesday, as well as 12 new related deaths, bringing the provincial death count to 469.

Two new deaths have been reported in northern B.C. this week, one on Tuesday and a second on Wednesday, bringing the region's toll to eight.

One of them was a man in his 80s, while Collins did not have the immediate details of the death reported Wednesday.

Their locations were not disclosed, but Collins said both were unrelated to any of the declared outbreaks in the region. 

Critical care capacity as of Nov. 30:

Fort St. John Hospital

  • Four base beds (one occupied, three unoccupied)

  •  Five ventilators, plus four transport

Mills Memorial Hospital (Terrace)

  • Five base beds (three occupied, two unoccupied

  • Four surge beds (all unoccupied)

  • Five ventilators, plus two transport

University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (Prince George)

  • 23 base beds (15 occupied, eight unoccupied)

  • 16 surge beds (all unoccupied)

  • 20 ventilators, plus four transport

Rest of Northern Health

  • Nine base beds (Five occupied, Four unoccupied)

  • Three surge beds (All unoccupied)

  • Three ventilators, plus 10 transport) 

Regional total

  • 41 base beds (24 occupied, 17 unoccupied)

  • 23 surge beds (All unoccupied)

— with files from Jess Fedigan, Cindy E. Harnett

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at