Merritt mayor pressures provincial government and Interior Health Authority over recent temporary ER closures.

Over an email sent out on Feb. 12, Mayor Mike Goetz expressed his concerns over the repeated ER temporary closures happening at the Nicola Valley Hospital (NVH).

“As you know, our hospital (ER) has now been closed two times out of the last four days due to a doctor shortage,” the email reads.

The first ER temporary closure in 2024 at NVH happened on Feb. 9 and shortly after, a 24-hour temporary closure was announced on Feb. 12, both closures due to staff shortage.

Mayor Goetz is requesting both Health Minister Adrian Dix and Interior Health President Susan Brown a plan to show what is being done with a $7.5 million permanent funding announced by the provincial government on Oct. 18, 2023, which was said “to help stabilize physician emergency room coverage in hospitals” in Merritt, Oliver and Salmon Arm.

“My understanding is that it was to help curb this exact problem, when can we see these funds released to the communities, as well as how much each community received and who will actually administer the funds,” he added in the email. “To this point, we have not really seen any plan after the announcement.”

The mayor added that he will bring a motion to the next TNHD meeting to ask credit for the days that “we paid for but did not get.”

“I am hoping that we are not trending in the same direction as last year and am asking for some real concrete steps to keep the Nicola Valley General Hospital open for citizens of Merritt as well as the people who use the Coquihalla Highway,” he said in the email. “That they can be assured that if needed, our hospital will be there to serve them.”

In an email to the Herald, Karen Cooper, interim executive director and clinical operations at Interior Health, said that they recognize the services interruptions are a concern for the mayor and the people in Merritt and area.

“We take every step we can to maintain Emergency Department services in Merritt, however, if there are staffing shortages, unfortunately it requires a temporary change to the availability of services,” she said in the email.

She added the health authority continues to “work on a variety of strategies to stabilize local emergency department services, including a new contract compensation model announced by the Ministry of Health on Oct. 18, 2023.”

Cooper also mentioned that Interior Health has a working group to support registered nurses and licensed practical nurses recruitment into Merritt.

“We proactively contact recent nursing grads to highlight opportunities in Merritt,” she added in the email.

In the email, she also added that IHA CEO Susan Brown will be in touch with Mayor Goetz for his inquiry.

According to Interior Health Authority statements, the Nicola Valley Hospital has suffered 20 ER closures due to staff shortage in 2023.