British Columbia

Emergency room in Alert Bay, B.C., closed for more than 2 weeks over holidays

The small emergency room at the Cormorant Island Health Centre has nursing vacancies that Island Health hasn’t been able to fill. It has been closed overnight for more than four months and is now closed 24/7 until Jan. 3. The nearest ER is about 45 minutes away by ferry or water taxi.

The health centre has been plagued with staffing shortages since summer

A paramedic is seen getting into a parked B.C. ambulance that has both doors open.
Island Health says that when people call 911 from Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, B.C., Emergency Health Services will arrange to get them to Vancouver Island — a boat ride away. The closure is in effect until Jan. 3, 2023. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The small emergency room in Alert Bay — an island community off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island — is closed until the new year. 

Island Health, which manages health care across the Vancouver Island region, has been struggling to find registered nurses to staff the ER at the Cormorant Island Health Centre and has been hiring agency nurses to fill the gaps as much as possible. 

The ER in Alert Bay has been closed overnight for over four months, and Island Health announced Thursday afternoon that the closure would be extended 24/7 from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. Jan 3.

People who need emergency services must travel from Cormorant Island to Vancouver Island to the ER at Port McNeill Hospital — a trip that can take over an hour. The first ferry of the day is at 6:40 a.m., and the final sailing departs at 8:25 p.m.

For 911 calls, the ambulance service will arrange for travel by ferry or water taxi. 

The front of a small car ferry overlooks the ocean with land in the near distance.
There are six ferry sailings a day from Alert Bay to Port McNeill. The sailings last 40 to 60 minutes, depending on whether they make an additional stop at neighbouring Malcolm Island. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Don Svanvik is the elected chief councillor of the 'Namgis First Nation, based on Cormorant Island. He says he knew the closure was possible, given the staffing shortage, but it's still an enormous cause for concern.

He says he felt panic when he heard the news and that he's "praying that we don't have a serious incident in that time."

Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan says he knows health-care staffing is an issue everywhere, but he doesn't remember anything quite like this in the 50-plus years he's lived on the island. 

Buchanan, Svanvik, and many of their colleagues in the region have been in talks with Island Health for months, trying to find staffing solutions. 

Buchanan says he'd like things to be resolved in the new year, but he's not holding his breath.

"We're certainly hopeful, but it's no guarantee."

The emergency rooms at the other two hospitals in the region, Port Hardy and Port McNeill, have also faced intermittent closures  — including overnights from Dec. 15 to 19 in Port Hardy. 

In a statement, Island Health says the Port McNeill emergency room will stay open during this time "unless otherwise announced."


Kathryn Marlow


Kathryn Marlow is a reporter for CBC Victoria. She covers stories in greater Victoria, and across the whole Vancouver Island region. You can reach her at