This story is part Critical situationa series of CBC British Columbia reports on the barriers residents of that province face in accessing timely and appropriate health care.
A number of emergency departments and primary care facilities in rural towns across British Columbia reported temporary service cuts over the long weekend due to ‘staffing issues’, authorities say. sanitary.
Closures and diversions have been frequent in British Columbia this year, with northern Vancouver Island, northern British Columbia and the interior particularly hard hit.
Experts and rural mayors have attributed the staffing problems to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, unhealthy working environments in rural hospitals and the cascading effects of a primary health care crisis.
On Saturday, the emergency room at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater, British Columbia – 120 kilometers north of Kamloops – will be diverted for the 62nd time this year, according to data analyzed by CBC News.
The number of hours the emergency has been on diversion equals 38 days in total. The emergency department will be operational again at 7 a.m. Sunday, according to a statement from Interior Health.
In addition to the closure in Clearwater, nearby Ashcroft Hospital will be closed through the weekend due to “limited nursing staff availability”, according to Interior Health.
Anyone requiring emergency care in either community is asked to report to the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.
Barbara Roden, the mayor of Ashcroft, says the ongoing closures have been “frustrating” for residents, especially when they have to travel all the way to Kamloops – a 100 kilometer journey – to treat minor injuries.
“Especially over a long weekend – when we know a lot of people will be travelling, a lot of people will be on the road, a lot of people will be out and doing things,” she said. “It’s a long drive to an emergency department and then, as we’ve seen, there’s no guarantee that those emergency departments will be open.”
Roden says understaffing in interior communities has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and there have been no replacements to keep services running.
She thinks the next meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) will focus on health care, especially for rural mayors.
Service reductions on Vancouver Island
Communities on central and northern Vancouver Island are also being impacted by “limited staff availability” this weekend.
The Port Hardy Hospital emergency department will be closed from Friday 5 a.m. until Sunday 7 a.m., according to Island Health. Anyone requiring emergency care is asked to report to Port McNeill Hospital.
“Island Health and BC Emergency Health Services have protocols in place to ensure patients are transported to the appropriate site,” an Island Health spokesperson said in a statement.
The Cormorant Island emergency service in Alert Bay will be closed overnight until September 15 – a closure that was announced just before the long weekend. The emergency room has been closed overnight since August 2 due to a “shortage of health personnel”.
In addition to various emergency room closures, a primary health care center in Chemainus will also experience a temporary reduction in service on Monday.
The Chemainus Health Care Center was closed all day Friday and will close early Monday at 2 p.m., according to Island Health.