After two closures of the Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency room last week, the mayor and other community members are rallying to bring further attention to the ongoing issues.
The two closures mark the 10th and 11th time the emergency room has closed in 2023, with both diversions in service caused by staffing issues, according to Interior Health Authority (IHA). Mayor Mike Goetz said the closures were unexpected, noting that he has met with the province’s health minister and IHA officials to discuss the issue.
“We didn’t get the notices until quite late, usually we get a notice that we put out Voyent, and continue on from there, but we got these very late, so they came pretty much as a surprise to everybody,” noted Goetz.
“I have since talked with Minister Dix yesterday about this, and we had a meeting with the Interior Health director this morning about the closures and what needs to happen, and where we need to go.”
Moving forward, the City of Merritt will create a sub committee comprised of council members, the chief administrative officer (CAO) and fire chief to work together with IHA and address the ongoing closures that leave Merritt residents a high mountain pass away from the nearest emergency room.
Goetz said the sub committee will be an official route to move forward and get answers from the province, which he said should be more effective than just commenting on the closures publicly.
“It’s time to work as a group, work together, with quarterly reports and try to support the doctors and nurses in town as much as possible, help them with retention, and get some people here,” added Goetz.
He explained that Cynthia White, the city’s new CAO, has taken on the task of creating the sub committee, which should be established in the coming months.
Goetz also attended the protest organized by Georgia Clement and other community members against the two recent closures. Locals gathered on Monday (September 11) in the green space of the hospital, where the mayor said he saw a clear show of unity and passion for keeping the ER open.
Organizers of the protest told the Herald that they plan to ramp up efforts in an attempt to show their opposition to what they identified as a lack of provincial action on the issue of health care reliability in rural areas.
“We will now plan a protest two days after any closure to give people more time to arrange to attend and everyone can rely on a protest happening,” noted Clement. “The protests are going to be more and more organized, and we will be increasing to civil disobedience if that is what it takes to hold Interior Health responsible for fulfilling their mandate to ensure staff are available to all small town hospitals.”
Clement said that nurses are available to work in Merritt’s hospital, and that she believes it is a matter of IHA offering them proper compensation. She cited issues with downgraded services at the hospital over the past 20 plus years under the health authority model, leading to a lack of opportunity for nurses to use the skills they are trained for.
Clement said she believes nurses would rather work in a facility that offers them an opportunity to use their varying skills. She also noted that a lack of consistent access to emergency health care could be a deterrent for potential new Merrittonians.
“We feel IHA needs to upgrade our hospital to what it used to be, this will be a win-win for the staff and the people of Merritt,” added Clement. “We are not going to attract new residents to Merritt with these ongoing closures.”
Clement encouraged residents to join the Nicola Valley ER Crisis Facebook group, which can be found online at www.facebook.com/groups/198040526311962.