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Merritt, B.C. mayor has strong words for province over rural ER closures

Click to play video: 'Staff shortages cause B.C. rural ER closures'
Staff shortages cause B.C. rural ER closures
Rural communities like Merritt are dealing with an ongoing crisis as staff shortages continue to force the closure of their hospital's emergency rooms. Richard Zussman reports. – Jul 9, 2024

This weekend, four hospitals within Interior Health were forced to close their emergency rooms due to staffing shortages.

“June 29, Clearwater closed; June 22, Kaslo closed; July 3, Oliver closed,” Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said.

The emergency room at the Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt, B.C., was closed for 48 hours, only reopening on Tuesday morning.

“There could be any kind of situation where we might have heat stroke or something and our hospital isn’t able to help with that at this point in time,” Goetz said.

Click to play video: 'ER closures in Interior Health region'
ER closures in Interior Health region

He said he is sick of all the closures and even vowed to send the province an $84,000 bill for 19 days of ER interruptions, putting strain on the fire department last year.

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“We paid full price for 365 days of coverage,” Goetz added. “And then when we don’t get it I would expect a credit the following year.”

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In Williams Lake, the emergency room at Cariboo Memorial was closed for the fourth night in a row on Sunday.

The Mayor of Williams Lake, Surinderpal Rathor, told Global News that the ER serves the whole region.

“We are talking 40-50,000 people,” he said. “If somebody’s got a heart attack, you mean somebody’s telling me we can let them die here.”

Click to play video: 'Merritt looks to recoup costs of ER closures'
Merritt looks to recoup costs of ER closures

On Tuesday, B.C. Premier David Eby said the province struggles to maintain staffing for some of those key health-care positions, especially in rural areas.

“It’s not unique to us,” he said.

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Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province never wants to put any hospital on diversion.

“It is true and in a number of cases over the past weekend we had what we call relatively late sick calls and so, such province-wide systems can’t respond in remote communities when there’s a late sick call,” he said.

Dix added that people should call in sick when they are sick and the province is doing “everything they can” to avoid hospital diversions.

However, Goetz said they shouldn’t accept this system.

“So I don’t see a lot of that going on across the country and to accept the fact that this is a normal situation isn’t going to get this problem fixed,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Medical students voice ER care concerns'
Medical students voice ER care concerns

Meanwhile, the Bass Coast Festival will be taking the stage in Merritt this weekend, bringing thousands of people to the city.

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The mayor said he has learned that the ER will likely be closed on Saturday.

“I don’t care if they’ve got to go to Pluto to get a doctor but get a doctor in here to get us through this weekend,” Goetz said.

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