Nurses, leaders speak out after ER closures across B.C.

Nurses and leaders are speaking out after multiple closures of emergency rooms in northern and interior B.C. due to staffing shortages.

ERs in Merritt, Williams Lake, Clearwater, Lillooet and others were all placed on diversion to communities up to three-hour drives away this weekend.

The BC Nurses Union says this problem is preventable and residents and nurses deserve better.

The union says staff retention has always been an issue, but it has been getting worse. It’s once again sounding the alarm, calling for the province and health authorities to take a critical look into fixing the issue in the communities affected.

The Union’s president Adriane Gear tells CityNews that several initiatives have been put forth by the Ministry of Health, but the problem persists.

“We are losing highly skilled, qualified men and women from the profession, and in some instances, we’re not leaving nursing altogether, but they are leaving those areas such as emergency and ICU, and so that is a concern,” said Gear.

The province says this problem worsens in the summer when people call in sick or go on vacation. It says it’s working on retaining and recruiting doctors and nurses, adding ambulances, appointing casual staff to vacant, full-time positions, and providing virtual physician support at some hospitals. 

“We recognize that changes to normal service are concerning for people, especially when they affect emergency department (ED) services. We never want to put EDs on diversion,” the province said in a statement Tuesday.

Gear says the province needs to address staffing and also ensure that nurses and healthcare workers are given the time off that they need.

“You can’t do this day after day, after day, shift after shift, after shift: not have enough staff and resources to provide the care,” she said.

“Not only does that take a lot from the nurse, physically, but that mental health component of knowing that you’re not providing the care that people require, as a professional, you’re not meeting your practice standards: That really runs its toll on people.”

Merritt ER forced to close 23 times in 19 months

The mayor of Merritt, Mike Goetz, says his city has seen 23 ER closures in nearly the last year and a half.

With Merritt set to host the outdoor Bass Coast Music Festival this weekend, Goetz says the city needs to be prepared to care for people with heat stroke and other medical issues.

“We’re going to have close to 10,000 new people in town, and we can’t afford to have our hospital down, so we’re making sure that it’s going to be open for this weekend,” Goetz told CityNews.

“People are out there; they’re having a couple of drinks; they forget how hot it is; they’re from the coast; they’re not used to this kind of heat; and all of a sudden we’ve got a problem. So, yes, that is a concern. We are really super concerned about that.”

In October last year, Goetz said he was considering withholding tax money from the province for each day people in Merritt cannot access emergency care. 

He suggests he may do so once again, adding that it’s between him and Premier David Eby.

“We need to be reimbursed coming into the next year, because we always pay these things at the beginning of the year or don’t charge us until the end of the year, and we can calculate how many days we were missing. But to take money for something that you never gave us, to me, this is a political situation that needs to be addressed, and the premier will be getting that this week,” said Goetz.

Goetz says if Merritt’s and the needs of other cities like it aren’t addressed, he may engage the federal government in talks.

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