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Staff shortages lead to temporary closure of B.C. emergency department

The Interior Health Authority (IHA) said the Elkford Health Centre in B.C.'s southeast corner of the province is closed due to 'limited staffing availability.' . Courtesy: Google Maps

The Elkford Hospital in B.C.’s southeast region has been forced to close its emergency department due to staffing shortages.

It joins a growing list of facilities around the province having to close their emergency room doors temporarily because of health worker shortages, forcing residents to travel to other communities for urgent care.

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Tom Shypitka, the MLA for Kootenay East, is calling for action from Premier John Horgan to address the problem.

“We are seeing an increasing number of hospitals around B.C. having to close their doors, simply because they cannot find enough staff to keep them open, and the same thing is happening here in the Kootenays,” Shypitka said.

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“The Elkford Hospital is closing its emergency department with no end date in sight, leaving the surrounding community without access to emergency medical care — and this isn’t the first time.”

Shypitka said the ER was closed for a week in July, for five months between April and August 2020, and periodically in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

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“It’s time for real action from John Horgan and the NDP to bring this chronic staffing shortage to an end,” he said.

Elkford Hospital joins Fort St. John Hospital, the Barriere Health Centre, ​the Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater and ​the Saanich Peninsula Hospital on a list of facilities around the province that have had to periodically close their emergency departments because of healthcare worker shortages, the MLA said.

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Interior Health says the Elkford Health Centre remains open for scheduled primary care appointments, lab and X-ray services as it works to fill the vacant positions.

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“Interior Health continues to recruit additional permanent and casual staff and physicians to Elkford,” it said in a public service announcement.

In the event of an emergency, residents are urged to call 911 or visit the ERs in Sparwood and Elk Valley in Fernie, which is nearly an hour’s drive away.

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“Interior Health regrets this interruption to our normal emergency department services in Elkford,” IH said.

The closure is effective Sept. 29 until further notice.

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—with files from The Canadian Press 

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