BC Nurses Union members rally for better working conditions in Merritt, B.C.

Click to play video: 'BC Nurses call for immediate action'
BC Nurses call for immediate action
WATCH: The BC Nurses Union rallied in Merritt today amid what they say is worsening working conditions. As our Taya Fast reports, the local hospital has seen numerous emergency room closures for over a year due to staffing shortages – Apr 17, 2024

BC Nurses Union held a rally outside of the Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt, B.C., on Wednesday amid what the union says are worsening working conditions in the region.

The union claims Interior Health has ignored renewed calls for increased security on site on top of ongoing staffing shortages.

“For nurses to come forward and to advocate, you know that it’s a situation that’s been going on for a long time,” said BCNU President Adriane Gear.

Click to play video: 'Merritt mayor taking action against province amid ER closures'
Merritt mayor taking action against province amid ER closures

BCNU cited two incidents in and around the facility over the past few months, including one that happened two weeks ago. A person allegedly followed a nurse into the hospital while on a night shift and was found sleeping there the next morning.

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And last October, nurses responded to a stabbing that took place in the hospital’s parking lot.

“It is the responsibility of this employer to ensure that the working conditions are safe,” said Gear.

“And what I have been learning from speaking to nurses that work at Nicola Valley Hospital is that they don’t feel safe, and they’ve been raising those concerns.”

The emergency room (ER) at Nicola Valley was closed 19 times in 2023 and has already shuttered twice this year, according to BCNU. Interior Health attributing each one of those closures to staffing shortages.

“Nurses and health-care workers at the hospital have been doing their best to provide safe, quality health care while managing the community’s growing and aging population, and the pressure that comes with being located next to a major highway system that sees high volumes of commercial and recreational traffic,” read the BCNU press release.

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“Nurses say a lack of long-term care facilities has also put pressure on the hospital’s ER, which has seen temporary closures several times already this year.”

Click to play video: 'Merritt continues to search for hospital closure solutions'
Merritt continues to search for hospital closure solutions

B.C.’s health critic Shirley Bond described the health care situation in Merritt  “devastating” but not unique to the region.

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“We see today there are significant challenges whether it’s Prince Rupert or Dawson Creek or Clearwater, we continue to see ER closures, staff shortages, that are impacting not only healthcare professionals, but patients as well. So it’s a significant concern, and I am very grateful for nurses who have the courage to stand up into speaker,” said Bond.

“Imagine how devastating it is to be told that your emergency room is closed, it’s not a 10 minute drive to another hospital. I was so discouraged and concern especially in the winter months when you think about the highways that people use here, the heavy industrial traffic that we have, it is devastatingly difficult to know that your ER is closed.”

Both Gear and Bond said this reflects the fact that there’s no action plan in place to effectively retain the nurses who currently work at the hospital and recruit other nurses to the community.

“We (have) 5,000 nursing vacancies in the province today, so the primary concern that I have is keeping the nurses we have today in the system. Without them, the crisis deepens,” said Bond.

“We need to look at retention. Of course, we need to look at recruitment and training as well. But it starts with providing a safe, healthy workplace for people to come to work every day to do the job they’re called to do. That would make a difference immediately.”

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Click to play video: 'Merritt ER closed for third time this month'
Merritt ER closed for third time this month

In a statement to Global News, Interior Health said it recognizes that reduced staff capacity affects nurses and staff in hospitals and health centres throughout the Interior Health network.

“We appreciate the hard work and dedication shown by nurses and staff in Merritt to the people we serve. We know there is more work to do, and we continue to work collaboratively with our nurses, staff and the BC Nurses Union to provide a positive working environment for our nurses, staff and physicians,” said Karen Cooper, executive director of Interior Health Clinical Operations Cariboo/South Cariboo.

“Interior Health is committed to this work and to local health-care services for Merritt and surround communities. If nurses, staff or the BCNU have specific concerns about Nicola Valley Hospital, we will work with them to address those concerns through our ongoing collective discussions.”

Although there is no blanket solution to the issues, the BC Nurses Union hopes that ratios are implemented sooner than later.

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“We know from other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented ratios that nurses come back to nursing and improves working conditions,” said Gear.

“It makes it so that you can provide desperately-needed care to your patients and it reduces nurse injury rates, it reduces length of stay and reduces patient mortality. And so, for us, that’s the long game.”

Click to play video: 'Solutions approved for ongoing ER closures'
Solutions approved for ongoing ER closures

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