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‘Tip of the iceberg’: Clearwater, B.C. mayor expects ER diversions to continue

Click to play video: 'Overnight ER closures in Clearwater extended'
Overnight ER closures in Clearwater extended
A B.C. mayor is, once again, sounding the alarm saying emergency room closures will keep costing lives. Merlin Blackwell, Clearwater Mayor, has more on the help rural towns are calling for – Aug 29, 2022

The mayor of Clearwater, B.C., says despite some recent hires he doesn’t see any end in sight to diversions at the community’s hospital.

Interior Health has announced the emergency room at the Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital will be closed overnight between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2 due to staffing shortages, continuing a 24-day stretch that began on Aug. 11.

The hospital’s ER has seen just three normal 24-hour operating days since Aug. 3.

With the ER closed overnight, people needing emergency care must drive about 30 minutes to hospitals in either Kamloops or 100 Mile House.

Click to play video: 'Patient waiting for days in Abbotsford Hospital ER'
Patient waiting for days in Abbotsford Hospital ER

“I fully expect to hear an extension of that,” Mayor Merlin Blackwell said of the latest diversions.

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“Although we’ve made some success at hiring RNs and we have had a new doctor come onboard, I can still see some uncertainty through September on this, because we’re not quite there.”

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Blackwell said three or four RNs have also been recruited, but the hospital is still dealing with sick and injury leave and holidays.

Blackwell said he and a group of other rural mayors are forming a caucus to raise the alarm about the crisis in small town medicine that he says will take systemic change to resolve.

“We’re the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“If it’s not happening in their town right now, it will be shortly. This is a long-term crisis due to attrition, toxic workplace environments not having enough nursing seats, treating people poorly.”

Blackwell will also be giving a presentation at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Whistler that will be focused on “rallying the troops” and presenting possible solutions.

Click to play video: 'Persistent staffing shortages in emergency health care'
Persistent staffing shortages in emergency health care

One of those solutions, he said, is addressing the “toxic” work environment at rural hospitals that’s resulted from management of different departments being split between local administrators and out-of-town leadership.

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He is also calling for urgent action to streamline accreditation for foreign-trained health-care workers.

“There are a lot of foreign trained professionals here that would be probably perfectly fine to be in the system within a few months,” he said.

“We need to remove those roadblocks so those people who are already living in Canada but not practicing their professions in medicine can get on board and help the problem — all hands on deck.”

Last week, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Doctors of BC announced $118 million in funding meant to stabilize family doctors’ practices, and plans for a new fee model expected in January which could help reduce pressure on emergency departments.

Dix has said the province is in the midst of “transformational” multi-phased approach to revitalizing the health-care system, and acknowledged there is much work ahead.

According to the minister the province has added about 38,000 new health-care workers since 2017, including 600 new doctors.

— with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey

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