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IH says Cariboo Memorial important hospital servicing region

Interior Health says access to services is top priority, as ER closures across the Interior Health Authority continue.
mly Cariboo Memorial Hospital
City council has come out opposed to the proposed privatization of laundry services by Interior Health for its facilities

For four nights in a row, emergency room services were unavailable at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake.

The closures occurred overnight Thursday, July 4, Friday, July 5, Saturday, July 6, and Sunday, July 7, starting at either 5:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. the following day. Interior Health (IH) is blaming the string of closures on a shortage of nursing staff.

“I do want to emphasize that our top priority is to maintain full service at all times,” said Diane Shendruk, vice-president of Interior Health North.

Shendruk noted CMH is a really important hospital servicing a very large area. Shendruk said she recognizes and acknowledges the impact to the community, especially when it comes to emergency room (ER) closures, and emphasized the health authority is still working hard to recruit nurses and physicians.

However, they do still have a number of unfilled shifts on the roster. “We do everything possible to fill them until all other options are exhausted,” said Shendruk.

She said there are a number of financial incentives being offered to new nurses, with one new nurse starting in August and two health care assistants having started at the emergency room already. Visiting nurses are provided travel pay, meals and lodging when coming to fill shifts and a rural recruitment incentive is also available, offering three months free accommodation to come to the community. The provincial rural retention incentive also provides a $20,000 signing bonus with a two-year return of service commitment for those coming to rural areas like the Cariboo. In order to retain existing nursing staff, retention bonuses are also provided of $2,000 per quarter up to $8,000 per year.

She also believes the new investment in the hospital facility will be an added incentive for recruitment.

One of the concerns being expressed around the loss of ER services for the area was the late notice. A press release on the closure came out just before 6 p.m. for the Thursday closure, with the closure beginning at 7:30 p.m. Shendruk attributes the late notice to staff working to fill the schedule until the last possible moment. 

During the closures, patients were directed to access care at 100 Mile District General Hospital in 100 Mile House, GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel or Bella Coola General Hospital in Bella Coola. All other inpatient services continued as normal at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.

As a sign of positive progress, Shendruk did say inpatient services at Cariboo Memorial Hospital have stabilized, with four new nurses coming on board to help support inpatient care for those admitted to hospital. Within the last year, inpatient services have not always been available, and patients were sometimes being relocated to other hospitals within the health authority.

She said she welcomes suggestions from staff and political leaders to help address the situation and said continuing to work with the municipality to advertise Williams Lake for the great community it is to live in is really important. During closures, people in the community who need life-threatening emergency care (i.e., chest pains, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding) should always call 911 for transport to the nearest available and appropriate facility.

The emergency department in Cariboo Memorial Hospital is normally open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cariboo Memorial Hospital hasn’t been the only hospital affected by limited staffing over the weekend. Lillooet, Merritt and Oliver all had recent closures impacting the emergency departments in those communities.

Merritt’s ER was closed for 48 hours July 7 to July 9. All closures were attributed to either nursing staff or physician shortages.