Many Osoyoos and Oliver residents, like Charles Pollard and his wife, rely heavily on the South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver for their medical needs.
They said talks of a weekend emergency room closure are alarming.
“For us to go from here to Penticton or call someone in, it would take a half hour, three quarters of an hour for me to rush her into the ER,” Pollard said.
Emergency physician and former chief of staff, Dr.Peter Entwistle, said he was also alarmed.
In March, Entwistle resigned his administrative role to run as an independent in the provincial election.
The general practitioner said the ER was almost closed last weekend due to the unavailability of physicians.
“Fortunately some doctors were able to step up but this is something that is happening every weekend, and it’s been happening for the last five years, no one is taking responsibility,” he said. “Interior Health seems to think that people can work full-time in family practice and cover a busy emergency shift. It is not sustainable.”
The Interior Health Authority said there is some relief on the way with the arrival of seven new doctors to the region by September.
“Some of those will be emergency physicians who will come and work part-time in their emergency department. As a temporary measure the IH is arranging to have emergency doctors come in on a temporary basis from outside the region,” said Brad Raison, SOGH Acting Chief of Staff.
Demand on Oliver’s emergency department is also on the rise with a 13 per cent increase in visits over the past three years.
Health officials say the increase is due to out of town visitors and transients, people who cannot access their general practitioner and the lack of walk-in-clinic and after-hours access to physicians.
Seventy per cent of those visits are for “non-urgent” medical care.