Slocan Valley hospital gets last-minute ER extension amid expected cutbacks
Interior Health initially said emergency hours would be reduced Feb. 1 due to doctor shortage
The emergency room in New Denver, B.C., will continue operating around the clock at least until spring, after Interior Health reversed an earlier decision to reduce the ER hours.
The small community has been suffering from a doctor shortage and has been in discussions with the health authority about recruiting new physicians for the Slocan Community Health Centre.
In an announcement the mayor said was unexpected, Interior Health announced earlier this week that emergency department hours would be reduced effective Feb. 1 due to the doctor shortage.
"When they told us two weeks, we were just amazed. It was a real disappointment," said Mayor Ann Bunka. "The community was pretty upset."
Town has one doctor
Bunka said the town — which is down to one full-time physician — has been searching for months for a new doctor and had asked the health authority to keep the ER open until at least the spring.
She said residents wrote to the health authority, the health minister and Katrine Conroy, the MLA for Kootenay West, to express their concerns about ER cutbacks.
Late Thursday, in an emailed statement, the health authority gave the hospital an extension.
"While we continue to face significant physician staffing challenges, elected officials and representatives from the community were clear ... that they felt more time was needed to prepare for a change to current emergency department services," said Karen Bloemink, executive director of Interior Health-East.
"Based on that feedback, we will do everything possible to keep the emergency department open."
Recruitment campaign underway
Bunka said community members are relieved, but she says the pressure is now on to find additional physicians — a task she admits has "been a learning curve."
The community has formed a recruitment committee and recently released an online video highlighting the Slocan Valley to lure potential doctors.
Bunka said the community is already getting calls from doctors who have seen the video and she's hopeful one will choose to move to the Kootenay region.
"We realize that this is a long shot. It's a Hail Mary," said Bunka.
"We're working really hard, but it might not happen."
Interior Health says the emergency department will remain open 24 hours a day contingent on physician availability.