British Columbia·SITUATION CRITICAL

Emergency room, primary care closures continue over long weekend in rural B.C.

A number of emergency departments and primary care facilities in rural B.C. towns have reported temporary service reductions over the long weekend due to "staffing issues," according to health authorities.

Multiple diversions and overnight closures in Interior and Vancouver Island communities

A red sign reading 'EMERGENCY ONLY' is in front of a hospital.
A number of communities throughout B.C. are being affected by service reductions through the September long weekend. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This story is part of Situation Critical, a series from CBC British Columbia reporting on the barriers people in this province face in accessing timely and appropriate health care.

A stylized phrase reading 'SITUATION CRITICAL', made to read like a red heartbeat monitor.

A number of emergency departments and primary care facilities in rural B.C. towns have reported temporary service reductions over the long weekend due to "staffing issues," according to health authorities.

Closures and diversions have been a frequent occurrence in B.C. this year, with northern Vancouver Island, northern B.C. and the Interior particularly affected.

Experts and rural mayors have attributed the staffing issues to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, unhealthy work environments at rural hospitals and the cascading effects of a primary health-care crisis.

On Saturday, the emergency room at the Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater, B.C. — 120 kilometres north of Kamloops — will be on diversion for the 62nd time this year, according to data analyzed by CBC News.

The number of hours the ER has been on diversion is equivalent to 38 days in total. The emergency department will be back in operation at 7 a.m. on Sunday, according to a statement from Interior Health.

In addition to the closure in Clearwater, the nearby Ashcroft hospital will be closed throughout the weekend due to "limited nursing staff availability," according to Interior Health.

Anyone needing emergency care in either community is asked to go to the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Barbara Roden, the mayor of Ashcroft, says the ongoing closures were "frustrating" for residents, especially when they have to travel all the way to Kamloops — a 100-kilometre drive — to treat minor injuries.

 

"Especially over a long weekend — when we know that a lot of people will be traveling, a lot of people will be hitting the road, a lot of people will be out and about taking part in activities," she said. "It's a long drive to an emergency department and then, as we've seen, there are no guarantees that those emergency departments will be open."

Roden says the short staffing in Interior communities have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, and there haven't been replacements to keep services running.

She thinks the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) meeting will have a big focus on health care, especially for rural mayors.

Service reductions in Vancouver Island

Central and northern Vancouver Island communities are also being impacted by "limited staff availability" this weekend.

The Port Hardy Hospital emergency department will be closed from 5 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Sunday, according to Island Health. Anyone needing emergency care is asked to go to Port McNeill Hospital.

"Island Health and B.C. Emergency Health Services have protocols in place to ensure patients are transported to the appropriate site," a spokesperson for Island Health said in a statement.

The Cormorant Island emergency department in Alert Bay will be closed overnight until Sept. 15 — a closure that was announced just before the long weekend. The ED has been closed overnight since Aug. 2 due to a "health workforce shortage".

In addition to the various emergency room closures, a primary health-care centre in Chemainus will also be experiencing a temporary service reduction on Monday.

The Chemainus Health Care Centre was closed throughout the day on Friday, and it will shut early on Monday at 2 p.m., according to Island Health.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

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