Nursing shortage forces B.C. interior emergency room to close overnight. It’s not the first time

Ashcroft Hospital ER will be closed overnight Saturday, July 13, 2019 due to staff shortages, which have affected the facility several times in 2019. Courtesy: CFJC News/ Global Okanagan

The latest temporary closure of an emergency room in B.C.’s interior is shedding light on the continued nursing shortage in the region.

Interior Health announced Wednesday the emergency department at the Ashcroft Hospital and Community Health Care Centre will be closed from midnight to 8 a.m. Saturday due to staffing issues.

According to the health authority, two of the four permanent nursing positions are vacant, meaning they’re sometimes unable to cover shifts.

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The temporary closure is the eighth one this year for the clinic, which Interior Health says have sometimes lasted as long as two nights.

“If someone falls sick or can’t otherwise make their shift, the centre is unable to cover that shift because no one else is available,” Interior Health spokesperson Susan Duncan told Global News Friday. “There just aren’t enough people.”

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The emergency department in Ashcroft, which sits just south of Cache Creek and roughly 70 kilometres west of Kamloops, is only open on weekends to handle urgent medical needs.

During the week, the health-care centre is open to primary care with doctors staffed at the building. Those doctors are on call during the weekend to handle cases beyond the nursing staff’s capabilities.

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Interior Health says victims of major road accidents are often taken directly to Kamloops for urgent care.

Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden says the continued weekend closures this year have caused confusion among residents.

“There’s been concerns about whether it’s going to be open when they need it,” she said. “If people have an emergency over the weekend, they don’t know whether the department here is open, so some of them are taking their chances and heading for Kamloops.

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“There are very real concerns about whether it’s going to stay open,” Roden added, although she says Interior Health has told her there’s no plan to close the Ashcroft emergency department.

Roden said the concerns aren’t just felt in her community, but also in surrounding communities like Cache Creek and Boston Flats that also rely on the hospital.

The mayor sits on a collaborative table with other municipal leaders, the regional district and local First Nations to try to find a solution to the nursing shortage in the B.C. interior.

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The group had its first meeting on June 26 and will continue to meet and discuss short-term and long-term solutions.

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While it’s too early to say what the group is considering, Roden said much needs to be done.

“We need to have housing, we need to have daycare, they need to have faith in our education system,” she said. “We also need to make [nurses] aware of what our area has to offer. It’s a beautiful area, there’s a lot of opportunities.

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“I think there needs to be a lot more done in the recruitment area and make them know they’re not coming to a rural area that doesn’t have opportunities for their kids and for their families.”

The Ministry of Health forwarded any questions about the nursing shortage and staffing to Interior Health.

During the overnight closure, the health authority is urging anyone needing urgent care to visit Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, or health-care centres in Merritt or Lillooet.

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