—— By Michael Potestio/Castanet

 

The City of Merritt is asking B.C.’s Ministry of Health to recover costs associated with 19 days of emergency room closures at the Nicola Valley Hospital.

Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz told Castanet the request is more about making a point than recovering $89,000.

“The whole idea of this is to bring attention to the fact that there is a cost to our hospitals not staying open, and this is up to the province to fix,” he said.

“This is not up to local governments to fix.”

Earlier this month, Goetz presented a motion that was passed by city council to request the province credit the municipality $34,000 from the $650,000 it pays in hospital district taxes — accounting for the 19 days in 2023 the Merritt ER was inadvertently closed due to staffing issues.

As part of the motion, Merritt is also requesting $55,000 from the province to cover the costs of the fire department covering medical calls while ambulances were transporting people out of town to other hospitals while NVH was closed those 19 days.

“That takes money out of their budget that should be going to fighting fires, but now it’s diverted to cover the cost of our hospital being closed,” Goetz said.

“It’s a form of downloading that we’re looking to get back into their budget because it’s not a fair situation that we have to have our fire department cover those costs when the hospital goes down.”

Goetz said he feels the answer from the Ministry of Health to cover the bill will be no, because it would set a precedent with all other rural communities that have been experiencing hospital closures.

“But we’re going to go through the process to see if we can actually get something for that,” Goetz told Castanet.

“We haven’t heard anything back, and I don’t expect we will for a while.”

Goetz said he’s sure the province will listen to his case, but suspects it will give some reasoning as to why it cannot cover the bill.

“You can’t expect the taxpayers to pay $650,000 and then not get full service for the $650,000,” Goetz said.

Motion went to TRHD

The motion was similar to one Goetz brought to the Thompson Regional Hospital District in March, requesting the $34,000 credit be applied to Merritt’s 2024 hospital taxes.

“I have to do this to get the province to come to some way of fixing this problem so it stops,” Goetz told the board, noting other small cities faced similar closures.

“There should be a consequence when your hospital goes down.”

That motion was denied, but the board approved sending a letter to the province asking that it send the City of Merritt the cash.

The TRHD also voted in favour of making the issue a talking point with Minister of Health Adrian Dix at this year’s Union of BC Municipalities Convention.

Goetz said he understood the defeat, but felt compelled to first bring the motion to the TRHD.

“This money has already been paid with the expectation we will get the service,” Goetz told the board.

He said a better model might be to pay hospital taxes at the end of the year and withhold the funds for the days the Nicola Valley Hospital was not open during the year.