Following two day-long closures in the span of just 72 hours, Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz is calling on the provincial government to take action and acknowledge the ongoing healthcare challenges the community is facing. The Nicola Valley Hospital was closed for the seventh and eighth time in 2023 this weekend.
Goetz announced in January that he would chair the BC Rural Health Alliance, an advocacy group made up of elected municipal leaders from Vancouver Island, the Kootenays, and the Southern Interior, all regions that have suffered from ER closures and other healthcare issues. He has also called on Health Minister Adrian Dix to scrap the province’s requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, along with conducting an investigation into the cause of the closures.
Goetz told the Herald that the lack of communications from the minister himself is becoming increasingly frustrating as Merrittonians go without emergency care services for entire days at a time.
“I don’t want to be antagonistic, but I’m getting extremely frustrated, and one of the frustrations for me is the fact that the minister does not respond to any questions from me, staff, the press, or anyone,” noted Goetz.
Following the 24 and 25 hour closures over the weekend, Goetz said he again spoke with Interior Health officials about the immediate cause of the closures, which were both doctor shortages, and had a conversation with IHA brass regarding recruitment and retention efforts. He said the health authority is actively working on a number of new initiaves to draw healthcare workers to rural work environments.
Despite the fact that Goetz has not yet heard from Minister Dix himself, he noted that he has been in touch with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart, and BC Liberal Health Critic Shirley Bond. Both plan to advocate for the community on the floor of the legislature, with Goetz noting that they also view the closures as unacceptable. The MLAs have both taken to social media to criticize Minister Dix and Premier David Eby on the closures.
“They’ll both be getting as close to Minister Dix as possible, to try and get him to make a statement or acknowledge the fact that we’re having this issue,” said Goetz.
“He needs to acknowledge that, as a minister, he is looking into doing something. At this point, we’ve had total silence.”
Goetz said he believes that the impacts of the emergency department closures go beyond healthcare, including the potential for developers and industry to skip over Merritt for their next venture due to the lack of staffing capacity at the E.R.
“This is starting to effect our economic development, as well as the safety of the people in this community,” added Goetz.
Interior Health recently told the Herald in an interview that staff recruitment and retention efforts are 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 Herald has reached out to the Ministry of Health to request an interview with Minister Dix on the state of healthcare in the Nicola Valley and any initiatives undertaken by his ministry to address Merritt’s emergency room closures.