Mayor ‘deeply concerned’ ER closures will become permanent in small interior community | infonews


Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater

Image Credit: Inner Health

August 20, 2022 – 2:31 pm

The mayor of Clearwater says residents are “deeply concerned” that the ongoing closures of the city’s only hospital emergency department will become permanent.

Since the new year, towns like Clearwater, Oliver and Ashcroft have faced continued staffing shortages, leading to intermittent closures of local hospital emergency departments.

The final closure of Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater will last every night from August 19 to August 26.

READ MORE: Emergency service closures continue in Clearwater, Oliver

“The joke around town is to plan your accidents, plan your emergencies because the hospital is only open during the day and the night closures have been going on for weeks,” Mayor Merlin Blackwell said.

“There is deep concern that it will become a permanent trend that we are not going to end up with 24/7 emergency service here in Clearwater like what Ashcroft has been compromised to.”

The community also faces a shortage of ambulances to the point that Blackwell said he heard of at least two cases of people facing critical incidents going to the Kamloops hospital.

“They bypassed the ambulance service because nothing was available and they just got caught,” he said. “You can at least use an ambulance… if one is available for a critical incident that should end up in the ER, so we need both stabilized.”

Blackwell has contacted British Columbia Emergency Health Services and Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital to ensure there are ambulances available if the ER is closed, he said.

The Interior Health Authority is also considering closing the ER between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. so the community has at least consistent evening coverage, he said.

“It worries me because that’s what’s happening in Ashcroft,” he said.

Two people have died in recent weeks a short distance from an ambulance station in Ashcroft. No ambulance was immediately available at any time.

READ MORE: Another patient dies in Ashcroft while waiting for an ambulance

Interior Health has hired two new nurses and a doctor who will start in the next two weeks and four more nurses are in negotiations with the health authority to relocate to the community, he said.

Blackwell said he now has contact with health authorities on speed dial so he can raise concerns.

“I can basically bring up (things like) a nurse can’t find housing or daycare, let’s talk about that now,” he said, adding that this change in communication had been established over the past few months.

The community also faces a housing shortage, but with Trans Mountain completing construction in the coming months, Blackwell expects more rental properties to return to the market.

Clearwater currently has an ambulance available during the ER shutdown period, according to a statement from Emergency Health Support Services.

They are working on getting another one as the town normally has two, one is normally staffed with paramedics on duty. All nine paramedic positions in the community are currently filled, according to the health department.

“BCEHS has experienced staffing challenges, and since last year BCEHS, in partnership with the Government of British Columbia, has made significant changes and investments to improve and stabilize our staffing,” the statement read.

“Since 2021, BCEHS has added more than 500 new permanent full-time and part-time paramedic positions in rural and remote areas, and at least 125 in urban areas,” and a national recruitment campaign is underway to fill vacant positions.

The service added 42 new dispatch stations and 22 ambulance stations, nine of which have already been deployed.


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