On July 25, B.C.’s Minister of Health Adrian Dix visited Merritt to better understand the emergency room closure crisis happening in town.

During his visit at the Nicola Valley Hospital, the Herald tried to get comments about his visit and actions that the provincial government are considering to fx the situation, however, the minister was on back-to-back meetings and couldn’t speak to the Herald at the time.

The Herald managed to contact Minister Dix’s communications team and, through an email, the minister addressed the reasons behind his visit to town, along with the meetings he had with nursing and physicians staff, as well as Mayor Mike Goetz.

I regularly meet with staff and physicians to hear new ideas, and local perspectives, for addressing the complex challenges facing the healthcare system,” he said. “At the Nicola Valley Hospital today (July 25), I talked to physicians and nurses about the challenges that especially face the emergency department here in Merritt.”

In the email, Minister Dix addressed the recurring emergency department closures happening at the Nicola Valley Hospital as unfortunate.

“The Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt has had nine emergency department closures this year due to staffing shortages,” he said. “While this is contrary to some reports suggesting a higher number of closures, that number is still too high.”

The latest temporary closure announcement made by Interior Health was on July 12, which closed the emergency room for 13 hours, from 7 p.m. Wednesday (July 12) to 8 a.m. Thursday (July 13).

In May, Interior Health Authority told the Herald that staff recruitment and retention efforts for the Nicola Valley were ongoing, with the closures being a last resort measure to address staffing shortages caused by the overall vacancies, short-notice sick calls, and vacation time.

The minister confirmed in the email that the closures are a last resort decision and only occur when no other options are available and that “Interior Health will continue doing their very best to cover shifts when staff are unavailable.”

“We are doing everything possible to recruit health-care workers and stabilize emergency department services in the Merritt region,” he said.

In the email, Minister Dix also addressed the immediate actions that are being taken in Merritt to stabilize emergency services in town, which are:

  • Incentivizing work for nursing staff to redeploy to Merritt (e.g. additional travel incentives) to ensure the stability of services, as well as changing the mix of staffing to have additional resources in place to handle sick calls and cases where staff leave the site.   
  • Adding additional support for locum physicians travelling to the community in order to cover additional shifts and ongoing planning with local physicians to ensure that the workforce and compensation model will meet their needs in a sustainable way.    
  • Actively recruiting more physicians and staff for Nicola Valley Hospital. To date, Interior Health has recruited 2.16 additional full-time equivalents for emergency departments registered nurses positions.   
  • Interior Health is exploring all short- and long-term mitigation strategies to ensure consistent and reliable health services coverage in the community.   

The Herald also requested a formal interview with the minister, but had not received an answer by the time this story was published. 

On the day of his visit, a small group of Merrittonians were protesting outside of the hospital, making it clear that their concerns were heard. Later that day, Minister Dix gathered with Mayor Mike Goetz to discuss the healthcare crisis.

Mayor Goetz said he had a pleasant meeting with Minister Dix and Susan Brown, president of Interior Health Authority. 

“I am glad he came to Merritt, also glad he took the time to talk to the protesters,” the mayor said. “We have agreed to work together to solve the staffing issues.”

The mayor also added that let the minister know that he “will continue to advocate for the hospital.” He also said that both of them have agreed to contact each other if any issues arise and work together to get them fixed as quickly as possible.