Within the Northern Health Region during COVID-19, it’s almost been business as usual as of late - but that doesn't mean the region's employees aren't preparing for if the disease comes back.
No cases of the disease ravaging the world have been reported in the region since April 8 and only one case of COVID-19 has been reported from the Flin Flon area. It’s been more than two months since Flin Flon has seen even a presumptive positive case of the disease.
COVID-19 cases in the north have remained low in Manitoba, with only three cases in total reported in northern Manitoba during the outbreak and the province reporting as few as nine active cases earlier this week. Staff at NHR facilities, including Flin Flon General Hospital, are still maintaining precautions, despite the low numbers - including daily health screening.
“We are very proud of our staff. They have all been outstanding during this health crisis. In addition to offering testing sites in Flin Flon, The Pas and Thompson, we screen our staff daily. Our daily staff screening has shown us that we are keeping transmission at bay,” said an NHR spokesperson.
“I am pleased to note that our staff are holding up well during these challenging times. Our PPE supplies and our staffing complement are both at appropriate levels at this time.”
When COVID-19 was first reported in Canada, the NHR put together what’s been referred to as a “pandemic plan” - how to best allocate time, resources and care while keeping staff, patients and others as safe as possible. That plan has not stayed the same throughout the pandemic - tweaks have been made regularly, including when changes are made with provincial or federal health orders or medical care conventions.
“With the provincial announcement of some relaxation of those measures and the reopening of some businesses, we still need to protect ourselves and those around us. We need to follow measures put into place for our protection and we need to continue to respect physical distancing and practice good hand hygiene,” said the spokesperson.
The NHR is still relying on care from locums and medical personnel from outside the north, including some out-of-province personnel.
“The NHR relies on out of town workers and agency staff in some of our facilities. Having said that, those staff are screened prior to entering a NHR facility - and if flying to the north, screened at the airport as well,” said the spokesperson.
“Any staff failing the screening will not be allowed to travel to the NHR and/or enter a NHR facility to work. For the most part, we are dealing with staff from inside Manitoba, however some of our physicians come from other parts of Canada from time to time. They too must meet the requirements and must screen daily.”
Health conditions in seniors housing have come into sharp focus during COVID-19. Several seniors facilities in Ontario and Quebec have been hotbeds for the disease, which spreads easily in confined spaces and has hit the elderly harder than any other group. In Manitoba, visits by the public to most health care facilities are still barred by provincial health order. Public health workers can only work at one senior care facility or personal care home during the outbreak.
“When the no visitation in health care facilities was announced by the province, the NHR immediately implemented those measures. This step, coupled with daily staff screening at all our facilities, the one PCH rule for staffing, physical distancing and rigorous infection prevention and control procedures has kept our long term care residents safe. We will work hard to keep them safe and secure,” said the spokesperson.
The NHR has been consulted with by the provincial government in creating travel restrictions for northern Manitoba. Since the new public health order was instituted earlier this spring, people from northern Manitoba have been able to travel within the north and to southern Manitoba and back, though such travel is officially discouraged. Southern residents have not been able to travel into the north for any reasons not considered to be non-essential.
“Our medical officers of health sit at a number of provincial tables where they ensure northern Manitoba concerns and issues are raised with the appropriate officials. From the outset, we have been included in discussions with the province regarding restrictions in northern Manitoba,” said the spokesperson.
Early in the outbreak, word came down that operating room services at Flin Flon General Hospital would be suspended after both the general surgeon and the anesthesiologist working at the hospital left the region. No update on the status of operating room services was provided by the spokesperson.
While COVID-19 has dominated the national conversation regarding health care, services remaining at Flin Flon General Hospital are still running as normal, with some concessions or changes due to the disease including social distancing protocols.
“People should feel confident seeking out healthcare if and when they need it. Our facilities are safe. Many health care providers are offering remote appointments by phone or virtually. Residents should feel comfortable calling in to seek virtual appointments to cut down on travel and in person waiting,” said the spokesperson.
“We have done a great job in Manitoba and in the north and that is evident by our low numbers, but we still cannot relax. We must remain vigilant to keep these numbers at bay. Everyone should be COVID-19 careful to ensure we remain safe and protected.”