Island Health saw an uptick in snow-related injuries this week, including slip-and-falls. (File Photo)

Island Health saw an uptick in snow-related injuries this week, including slip-and-falls. (File Photo)

Vancouver Island hospitals saw rise in snow-related injuries, staff shortage from snow

Walk-in clinic closures, motor vehicle incidents saw crowded emergency rooms

Staffing levels at Vancouver Island hospitals are finally back to normal after a strenuous couple of days caused by the weather.

Heavy snowfall this week made it impossible for many people to get to work both at hospitals and walk-in clinics, causing more visits to the emergency room with less medical staff able to attend.

“There were longer than usual waits, but out staff have been working incredibly hard,” said Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for Island Health. “The military base shut down, as did schools and campuses, but we can’t shut down hospitals.”

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Several surgeries had to be postponed because surgeons and patients couldn’t get to the hospital on time. Simultaneously, hospitals saw a spike of snow-related injuries coming in.

“There were a lot of motor vehicle accidents… a lot of slip and falls and fractures,” Burton said. “Even with tobogganing, it’s a lot of fun but some people were doing it for the first time and got injured.”

Burton said Island Health was quick to come up with creative solutions, including an organized rideshare program with the switchboard, but that a lot of help came from the community.

“We heard from a Victoria 4×4 club who started a social media group to volunteer driving staff to the hospital,” Burton said. “It just proves that extreme weather brings out the best in people.”

READ MORE: Vancouver Island 4×4 club offers free rides to hospital staff

Staff members were creative in getting to work, including a nurse who cross-country skied her way into the Victoria General Hospital, and other staff members who opted to stay overnight.

“On Monday we had several staff monitoring the weather, so they had a makeshift bed made up and just stayed,” Burton said. “Now that’s dedication to the job.”

Burton said things are starting to settle now that more walk-in clinics are opening and more staff are coming in, but that now it’s time to catch up after a frantic couple of days. But Island Health is still urging people to use caution to avoid injury .

The health authority released a list of snow and ice safety tips on Tuesday.

“Island Health advises everyone, particularly seniors, to be extremely cautious when they venture outdoors in snowy and icy conditions, as they are especially at risk of suffering serious injuries from slips and falls,” the release says.

The health authority is also asking people to reduce pressure on hospitals by using emergency departments only in cases of urgent and acute medical issues,

“Emergency departments are busier than usual with slip and fall incidents, fractures and motor vehicle crash victims.”

Residents are also urged to avoid driving unless necessary to avoid vehicle crashes.

Other tips? Many are common sense, but it’s a good refresher for people not used to dealing with heavy snow.

  • When walking, ensure that footwear is well-fitting and suited to the weather. Keep your center of gravity over your feet, with hands out of pockets for balance. Pay attention to where you’re going and walk slowly, “penguin-style.”
  • Use handrails whenever possible, especially on stairs. If you can’t avoid walking on snow and ice, walk “where it’s crunchy, if you can.”
  • It’s easier to maintain your balance wearing a backpack than a purse. Heed the orders of health professionals about using a walking aid such as a cane or walker. And sprinkle sand or salt on the ground for traction.
  • And if you’re shoveling snow, take it easy. Pace yourself and be aware of the physical strain.
  • People are also urged to help seniors who can’t keep their sidewalks safe.

Royal Jubilee HospitalSnowVictoria General Hospital