—— By Michael Potestio/Castanet

B.C.’s health minister says he will not reimburse the City of Merritt $90,000 to compensate for 19 closures of the Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency room, but the mayor says he’s sending the bill regardless.

“While we won’t be paying the bill, we will be continuing to work with Mayor [Mike] Goetz to continue a successful effort to fill physician positions,” Adrian Dix said in the legislature last week during question period.

Meanwhile, Goetz said he hadn’t planned to send the bill out for about another week when Dix made his comment on April 23, but he still intends to follow through.

Merritt city council passed a motion earlier in the month asking the province to 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.

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 the emergency room was closed during those 19 days.

Goetz said the bill is to go to Premier David Eby, but Dix will receive a copy.

“I’m not going to be asking him [Dix]. I’ll be asking the B.C. government to return it,” Goetz said.

A moral issue

Dix said his ministry is focused on filling physician vacancies at Nicola Valley Hospital, an initiative he has worked on with Goetz.

Goetz told Castanet he knows the minister is working toward filling the positions at the hospital, but this request is about a separate issue.

“Services that weren’t rendered, for services that were paid for and we would just like to be reimbursed,” Goetz said. “This is a moral issue. I really need an explanation why you think it’s okay to take money for something you didn’t deliver.”

Goetz said the closures are not fair to RCMP and firefighters who have to cover on days when the emergency room at NVH is closed. He said it’s unfortunate when doctors and nurses cannot make shifts, but it happens.

“There’s got to be a fix to this thing. It just can’t be considered normal the status quo,” Goetz said.

Province can expect another bill

Goetz said he also plans to ask the province that hospital taxes be collected at the end of the year as opposed to the beginning so the city has the option to withhold funds for days NVH is closed rather than having to ask for a reimbursement.

He said withholding the funds without a tax policy change would lead to a fine.

Goetz noted NVH has been closed for two days so far in 2024, and while he understands the province isn’t likely to pay this bill, he plans to send one again next year anyways in the hopes of getting the government to address the issue.