by Kerstin Auer —

Concerns over closures of the Nicola Valley Hospital and Health Centre’s emergency department have been top of mind for Merrittonians, and now an association representing 14,000 physician members, is sounding the alarm about the state of emergency departments across B.C. 

After ten ER closures during the first months of 2023 in Merritt, local resident Georgia Clement first organized a protest in early April, followed by several more protests as well as an online petition that has garnered more than 8,400 signatures to date. The petition, titled “Emergency Room Closure Protest!” has been supported by local residents as well as people travelling the Coquihalla and Okanagan Connector Highways, citing the necessity of having 24/7 access to emergency health care due to Merritt’s location at the convergence of said highways.

While Merritt’s ER has had no more closures since the beginning of the protests, the Nicola Valley is not the only place dealing with challenging healthcare situations, but it is rather a concerning trend affecting the whole province, according to a press release from Doctors of BC. An email circulating among doctors in the Lower Mainland is describing the situation at Langley Memorial Hospital as dire, asking physicians not to send patients in need of urgent care there, as their emergency department is “near collapse.”

“Our emergency departments are on red alert,” said Dr. Gord McInnes, co-president of the Section of Emergency Medicine. “Our patients are suffering, and the doctors struggling to provide their care are tired and distressed. Our patients need and deserve better. They deserve to know that they will be safe, and that they will be cared for when they go to an emergency department for help. The dire situation we are facing now cannot continue.”

The press release further states that wait times are long enough for patients’ health to deteriorate – upwards of 8 hours – citing that research shows an increase of 10 percent in mortality and morbidity after waiting for more than 6 hours. 

“We need the provincial government to work with us on real solutions to relieve the pressures in our hospitals, which are the root of the problems in our EDs,” added Dr. McInnes. “Solutions will need to address some of the biggest challenges, among them the need for more beds to build capacity, and to address the shortage of health care staff.”

It seems clear that long-term solutions are needed and those might take time; in the meanwhile, Doctors of BC is asking the provincial government to take immediate steps to address the current crisis such as giving doctors and nurses the authority to initiate a “code orange” protocol. This will ensure the transfer of patients out of the ER into other parts of the hospital so the emergency department can continue to function. Another immediate measure the association is calling for is a process to address patient monitoring vs. emergency treatment more efficiently. to ensure each patient gets the type of treatment they need most.

While the situation is dire, Doctors of BC said they are not trying to discourage British Columbians from coming to the nearest emergency department, in case of emergency. Those who are unsure if they require emergency care should call 811 for advice.