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Almost 150 BHB staff off work due to Covid as pressure on services mounts

Staff crisis: Almost 150 staff at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital are absent because of Covid-19 (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Almost 150 hospital staff are off work due to Covid-19 — with pressure on services mounting as the number of Omicron cases continues to surge.

The announcement came after the Bermuda Police Service announced that 48 of its 400-strong force were absent because of the virus, resulting in a “moderate temporary impact” on service levels.

And on Monday the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service said that manpower levels had been crippled by Covid-related absenteeism, resulting in the temporary closure of one station.

The BHB spokeswoman insisted that services at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital had not been affected by the staff shortage — but that hours at the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre had been reduced.

From today that facility will be open from 6pm until 10pm. Weekend hours will remain the same — from 9am to 9pm.

The move was made to ensure that adequate staffing levels are maintained in the emergency department of KEMH.

The spokeswoman said: “Our clinical emergency, inpatient and outpatient services currently have adequate staffing to deliver care, but we are monitoring the situation closely.

“We are able to treat all urgent and emergency cases who need our care and have been able to do so through the entire pandemic.”

The spokeswoman added that the number of hospitalised patients with the Omicron variant was rising. On Monday the Department of Health said that six people were in hospital, although none were in ICU.

She also refuted rumours that medics testing positive for the virus were allowed to work in order to make up the staff shortfall.

Judy Richardson, the BHB’s chief of nursing, said: “As community infections rise, so does the number of BHB staff who are impacted. BHB currently has nearly 150 staff off work due to positive results or as close contacts.”

The number has increased from 35 last week. Overall the BHB employs about 1,800 people.

Chikezie Dean Okereke, the BHB’s chief of emergency, said: “The temporary change in the weekday hours is due to a number of factors, including staffing issues, with some existing vacant positions and Covid-19 quarantine absences.

“We are extremely busy in the main emergency department at the moment. We are seeing many very unwell patients who need admission. This is not primarily driven by Covid-19 infections but pre-existing medical conditions.

“We are struggling to get patients discharged in a timely manner from inpatient units as they need community services, nursing home placements or family support.

“This has resulted in an increasing number of people waiting in the emergency department following admission, delays in timely assessment and management of the new patients attending and a high overall number of patients in the emergency department needing care.

“We are managing, but the reduced staffing numbers and the high acuity patients attending means that the emergency department service delivery is under a lot of pressure.”

Dr Okereke said that the closure of the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre will enable the BHB to redeploy medics to the emergency department and deliver care “ where the most unwell people are in need”.

He added: “We continue to review our situation as more people are impacted by positive cases. While hospitalised Covid patient numbers have been relatively low with Omicron, they are rising, and with staff levels under pressure we may have to review the delivery of care in non-urgent outpatient areas should the situation continue to escalate.”

Questions not answered

The Royal Gazette e-mailed a series of questions to Government concerning the BHB staffing crisis.

We asked:

• The overall objective of the Government throughout the pandemic has been to ensure that hospital services are not affected. Clearly, with the closure of the Lamb Foggo clinic, services are now being affected. Is the Premier/health minister concerned that government policies have failed? Has it been blindsided by Omicron?

• Are there contingency plans in place to ensure that KEMH staffing levels do not get so low that essential services can’t be provided? If so, what are those contingency plans? Is the current situation putting the health of patients at risk?

• Considering that the police and fire service are also struggling to provide services because of manpower shortages, does the Premier believe that Bermuda is facing a national crisis?

• The Minister for National Security has been silent on this issue, despite repeated requests for comment from The Royal Gazette in recent days. What are her thoughts?

The spokeswoman replied: “KEMH is more appropriate to address your queries.”