The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.

Missed health care a concern for local doctors

Missed health screenings and checkups could have long-term effects

New COVID-19 cases locally are plateaued and hospitalizations are trending downwards regionally, but health workers are increasingly concerned for those in the community that have gone without care for the last two years as a result of the pandemic.

“As physicians, we are worried about what has been missed in the last two years,” said Dr. Tara Chalmers-Nixon of the Elk Valley Hospital Medical Staff Association.

As the pandemic has continued on, hospitals have been focused on COVID care, while elective procedures have been delayed and routine checkups have been missed.

Chalmers-Nixon highlighted a study from early 2021 that looked at longer-term impacts of missed cancer screenings over a three-month period that were not ‘caught up’ on later as being one look at problems yet to come.

“There is some good data that suggests … when you shut down (colon cancer screening) for three months or six months, you end up with long-term effects that can last up to 30 years as far as increased cancer diagnosis and increased cancer deaths,” she said.

The same issue with missed, and not followed-up screenings applied for lots of different types of cancers, health conditions and ongoing health care needs such as medication updates, blood tests and more.

It meant that for health workers, a decline in positive COVID-19 cases meant little for reducing stress on the workforce.

“We’re not at a point where we can say we can relax – we’re waiting for all these people who have missed care in the last two years to present with more advanced cases.”

As yet, there is no formal B.C. or Canada-wide campaign to encourage those that have missed care due to avoiding hospitals and doctors during the pandemic to catch up on much needed preventative care and health monitoring needs, such as screenings, blood tests and chronic illnesses.

Chalmers-Nixon encouraged those who had missed checkups or screenings to see their doctor sooner rather than later.

Hospital staffing

Looking at the most recent COVID-19 wave, Chalmers-Nixon said the Elk Valley had once again been relatively shielded from the worst effects, from case numbers, to hospitalisations, to hospital staffing concerns.

“We’ve been quite fortunate as far as having had survived the COVID-omicron wave from a staffing point of view,” she said.

“Although they have been many staff that have had COVID, all our staff have been triple vaccinated so we never ended up with a massive shortage of staff with our hospital here in the Elk Valley.”

An Interior Health-mandated operating room slowdown to redeploy nursing staff around the health authority didn’t have a major impact on local staffing levels either, she said.

The East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook has been busy, but the number of staff redeployed from the Elk Valley Hospital there was low due to distance.

READ MORE: Occupancy rates rose as COVID-19 Delta wave hit EKRH last fall

Vaccine uptake

Third doses are now available to those aged 12-17, and Chalmers-Nixon said it was important for more locals to go get their booster, or their second, or even first shot.

“B.C. has the second lowest dose one vaccination for kids 5-11 (and the) lowest second dose vaccination in the country (for children)”, she said.

“There’s definitely vaccine hesitancy around children, and I would say the evidence and science is telling us that vaccines are safe for children, and Canadian and B.C. experts are definitely recommending that children get their second dose.”

Overall, 18+ second dose vaccination rates in the Fernie LHA (which includes all of the Elk Valley) is at 88 percent as of Feb. 22. Third dose rates are at 48 percent, but rising rapidly – a month ago the third dose level was 38 percent. 91 percent of residents over 18 have received at least one dose.

READ MORE: Sparwood mayor elected Kootenay hospital board chair, capital budget approved
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