Northern Health is planning temporary service adjustments and cutbacks throughout its facilities, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate health care staffing challenges in the north.

“Northern Health is proactively identifying services to be adjusted as we manage the ongoing staffing impacts on the health system, to ensure we can continue to provide safe patient care,” said Northern Health president and CEO Cathy Ulrich.

“Existing staffing challenges in the North are compounded by Omicron-related impacts, and some staff will need to be temporarily reassigned within communities in the region, to ensure essential service levels.”

In the northwest, surgery postponements are planned at two hospitals.

Wrinch Memorial Hosptial in Hazelton will be postponing or not booking approximately 20 procedures during the week of January 23rd, including scopes and dental procedures.

Likewise, Bulkley Valley District Hospital in Smithers will see 10-12 surgical procedures postponed each week from January 16th to 29th.

Across the north, several long term care facilities have paused admissions and are operating fewer beds.

Additionally, temporary reductions are taking place at adult day programs, non-urgent home health services, ambulatory clinics, some community care services and lab services in some communites in order to preserve or re-deploy staffing

Situation response teams are also in place to support site managers in Hazelton and Burns Lake, since both communities are dealing with staffing challenges.

“The pandemic has placed inordinate pressure on health care workers in Northern Health across all service areas, but we have also seen innovation and creativity in addressing these challenges,” said Ulrich.

“I thank everyone working in health care in Northern BC for their extraordinary commitment and dedication to the health and wellbeing of northerners.”

The COVID-19 pandemic placed massive challenges on northern hospitals last year: over 130 people in Northern Health had to be airlifted to other health regions for care in order to reduce the pressure on the north's health care system.