Just hours after Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency department closed for the eighteenth time this year due to staff shortage, and two days before a full 24-hour closure, B.C.’s Ministry of Health took a step forward in addressing the issue by announcing $7.5 million in funding to be split between the Merritt hospital and those in Salmon Arm and Oliver.

Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz himself received the news from a call with Minister Dix’s chief of staff about an hour before the release was announced. He said that, first and foremost, he was appreciative.

“We’re never unappreciative of any kind of money coming our way,” said Goetz, happy to hear that the funding would be on a continuous basis and rejuvenated whenever it happens to run out.

With the program still in its infancy, it is not yet known how the $7.5 million will be split between the three communities. Goetz said that he was hoping to hear more details in a meeting with Interior Health Authority staff in the next few days.

These funds, however much the Merritt hospital will be privy to, are earmarked to bring more doctors into the emergency room during shortages. However, Goetz said that Merritt’s issue is less due to a lack of physicians, but moreso nurses.

“We normally don’t shut down because of a doctor shortage, we are doing it because of a lack of nurses. So what I am trying to find out is, I know it has been announced for doctor help, but can we use that to attract nurses?”

One other detail that Goetz would like to see ironed out with the funding is whether the Merritt hospital funding will be ‘incentive-based’, meaning that more money can be offered for nurses and doctors to work shifts than in other locations. Goetz said that he has heard from the Ministry that Merritt is incentive-based, yet the IHA says that it is not.

“So that’s something that we have to get straightened out. Because if that’s the case, then we conceivably should never be shut down again, because then nurses will be offered ‘x’ amount of dollars to come here, time-and-a-half, double-time, whatever it is to fill in shifts here.”

A base wage, Goetz believes, is not enough to convince nurses and doctors from regions like the Okanagan and Cariboo to come and fill in shifts.

“If they’re making that kind of sacrifice, and taking that time to get out there, then incentives are key.”

Admittedly, the mayor is not a fan of incentives, as he believes that such a practice can lead to bidding wars among hospitals. However, if that is what is needed to fill the gaps in staffing, then he will begrudgingly support it.

The funding is a first step in the right direction to the longstanding issue, one that Goetz said he is appreciative of after taking Minister of Health Adrian Dix’s word at last month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference that Merritt is a “priority hospital”. Despite many questions remaining as to whether this is the first step of a long stroll to stability, Goetz believes that it is pointing in the right direction.

“We don’t know what this looks like, we don’t have the bones of the program yet. It will take a little bit longer to learn how this will play out. Do I think that we will not see another shutdown in the next couple of weeks? No, we probably will, until this gets rolling and set out, but after that I expect that we would probably have little to no closures after that.”