When Dr. Robert Granger requested to cover emergency room shifts at the Nicola Valley Hospital, not far from his home in Merritt, he was shocked at the response, or lack thereof, he received from Interior Health Authority (IHA).

The trauma surgeon of over 30 years had his request denied, despite having verbal authority from the College of Physicians and Surgeons to work at the understaffed, and recently, often closed emergency room. Granger currently works as a surgeon at Vancouver’s Royal Columbian Hospital, but resides in the Nicola Valley, where the surgeon and his wife have opened a skincare clinic. Granger recently offered to cover ER shifts as needed at Merritt’s hospital, but instead was offered a position in the Williams Lake intensive care unit (ICU) by Interior Health.

Granger told the Herald that Interior Health has not reached out directly about his desire to cover any understaffed shifts at Merritt’s ER amidst ongoing diversions that have seen the department close altogether for entire days at a time. He made the offer only to cover needed shifts, but believes that IHA took the verbal authorization from the College as a sign of Granger wanting to establish himself as a general practitioner in the Nicola Valley, which he said is not the case. 

Currently practicing as a trauma surgeon in Fraser Health Authority, Granger said he believes his over 30 years experience as a doctor qualifies him to cover shifts at Merritt’s ER as needed. Granger said he does not intend on establishing a practice in Merritt, which would require him to complete a preceptorship in Vancouver, but he has offered IHA to upgrade his emergency room training. IHA told the Herald that it couldn’t comment on Granger’s request specifically. 

“I’m not able to speak to individual cases, however in general in order to provide medical services in an acute care facility, physicians must meet the credentialing, training and currency requirements stipulated in the specialty area they want to work in,” said Dr. Doug Smith, executive medical director of clinical operations with IHA North, in a statement to the Herald.

“Interior Health is committed to ensuring Merritt residents have access to quality medical care as we work through the current challenges with physician recruitment. Where physicians may not meet full requirements, Interior Health is committed to ongoing conversations where they are able to meet requirements, or offer other locations that are in need of physicians services within Interior Health.”

Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz has previously called on the provincial government to end its vaccination mandate for healthcare workers immediately as part of efforts to address issues in rural healthcare, and recently called for an investigation by Interior Health and the provincial health ministry into the cause of the many ER closures Merritt has faced in recent months. He added that he believes working with Interior Health Authority and the provincial health ministry is the fasted way to a fix for Merritt’s healthcare woes. The ER in Merritt’s hospital has been closed eight times so far in 2023. 

Granger said he is still willing to cover shifts at the Nicola Valley Hospital’s struggling emergency room, and is awaiting a call from Interior Health Authority.