In a display that evoked essences of the biosolids protest that took place in 2015, nearly 300 residents of the Nicola Valley took to Central Park on Saturday (April 15) to protest ongoing service disruptions at the Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency department. 

The hospital’s ER has been closed ten times in 2023, with the diversions increasing in frequency since they became common last year. During the tenth diversion of emergency department services at the Nicola Valley Hospital since the beginning of this year, roughly 50 residents of the valley gathered on the hospital’s green space to rally against what many see as a lack of provincial action on the issue. 

Last weekend, although the hospital was open, organizers looked to continue to put the pressure on Interior Health Authority (IHA) and the provincial government to take action. Close to 300 residents showed up to support the cause, but organizer Georgia Clement told the Herald that there’s still more work to be done. 

“We probably will have to do another one, I don’t think this is going to be over quickly, and we’re here for the long haul,” said Clement.

“We don’t want the ER closed, that’s our issue, we don’t want any more closures, period. And we want that hospital upgraded.”

Clement claimed that hospital staff members have reached out to her anonymously to show their support, and share their concerns regarding the status of some repairs and maintenance issues inside the hospital.

IHA recently told the Herald that staff recruitment and retention efforts for the Nicola Valley Hospital 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. Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz has called for an investigation into the source of the closures, but the health authority has not announced their intentions to complete such an investigation. 

Goetz also recently confirmed to local media that he had received a call from provincial Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, and had a conversation regarding the hospital’s situation. Goetz said the minister provided him assurances that his team was tracking the issue and actively working toward solutions for i, but recently, has not returned the city’s calls. 

“We’re planning more civil disobedience, and we’re going to be working in conjunction with our First Nations friends and neighbours here in the Nicola Valley,” added Clement. “They’ve been very supportive so far, and I expect that support to continue.”

The rally began with an opening drumming and honour song by Arnie Narcisse, who also played a custom song, Hey there Davey, addressed to Premier David Eby, calling for more action on the issue.

A number of Chiefs from surrounding First Nations, along with most of the City of Merritt’s council and the mayor, attended the protest to show their support. Councillor Wendy Charney said she believes the rally is a good show of community support, but that that it will take something drastic happening before the province addresses the issue. 

“I don’t think that the government is really listening to us,” Charney told the Herald. “I think it’s going to take something major to happen before they’ll really listen to us.” 

Charney added that the situation in Merritt is a difficult one, and that everyone needs to be on board for a solution to be found. Protest organizers are calling for immediate action by IHA and the province to ensure the closures at the Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency room stop, with many offering that Dr. Robert Granger, a Merritt-based trauma surgeon currently working at Vancouver’s Royal Columbian Hospital who was told by IHA he did not meet the requirements to cover shifts in the Nicola Valley’s ER, could be a possible solution. 

Clement added that another rally will be held on April 30, also at Central Park, from 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.