Horizon says health-care system strained as dozens of staff self-isolate

·3 min read

Horizon Health Authority's CEO says around 80 of its staff have been in self-isolation because of potential exposure to COVID-19, while four or five employees have tested positive for the respiratory illness.

A total of 79 Horizon employees were in isolation as of Monday night. Of those, 44 are in the Saint John region, 20 in the Moncton area, 11 in the Fredericton area and four in the Miramichi area.

Karen McGrath told reporters Tuesday that the figure had been around 100 employees as of last week and said the total shifts as some are removed from the list and others added.

No details were provided about the locations of the four or five employees who tested positive, nor was a timeline offered for when those people became ill.

McGrath said she believes most of those in self-isolation were exposed outside of their workplace, but some may be tied to workplace exposure.

'Domino effect' on staffing

That's led to "pressures" in emergency rooms, dialysis clinics and other positions.

"All of those need to continue to operate," she said. "So if those people are off, then we have to backfill by using other people within the system. So it's a domino effect."

Existing issues in the province around a lack of staff, beds and other resources are "more magnified" because of the challenges created by the pandemic, McGrath said.

McGrath provided an example of a nurse practitioner or physician exposed to COVID-19.

That person, who would typically see 12 to 15 patients per day, would then have to self-isolate for 14 days. That would lead to dozens of cancelled appointments leaving patients with few options but potentially going to the emergency room.

"This is frustrating, no doubt, for our patients and also for our health care staff, who want to provide safe and quality care to every person but only have so many beds in a unit and so many hours in a shift," McGrath said.

CBC
CBC

The CEO said about 50 other staff have been "redeployed" from community health centres or administrative roles to other roles, such as working at COVID-19 assessment centres.

As well, Horizon staff are helping with outbreaks such as the one at the Shannex Parkland nursing home in Saint John.

"There have been significant impacts on Horizon," McGrath said of that outbreak.

She said an infection control team has been sent to assist at the home. That team helps make sure people at the home are properly wearing and using personal protective equipment.

CBC News requested figures from Vitalité Health Network about how many of its staff are in isolation but has not received those numbers.

McGrath also said it would likely only take eight or nine people hospitalized in one hospital, especially if several are in intensive care, to be too much to deal with.

"It wouldn't take very much for us to be overwhelmed," McGrath said.

None of the 116 people sick with COVID-19 in New Brunswick on Tuesday were in hospital.