Doctor shortages continue to cut emergency care off for Oliver residents.
An inability to get coverage for shifts at the South Okanagan General Hospital led to Interior Health announcing a 48-hour closure of the emergency department from Friday to Sunday, Sept. 3.
Just a day later, IH issued an update to state that the closure would be cut down to just 24 hours, with service resuming at 8 a.m. on Sept. 2 instead.
The 48-hour closure would have been the longest closure of the department to date, and the 24-hour closure is still the first day-time closure in Mayor Martin Johansen’s memory.
The closure is completely unacceptable and unprecedented, said Johansen, speaking to the Western News prior to the announcement of the closure being shortened.
“This is reaching a level that is showing that the system is in definite trouble.”
According to Johansens, this closure is likely only the first of the month, with more uncovered shifts still to come in September and October.
The emergency department has repeatedly closed in the community this year, usually only for a few hours or overnight. One such closure came in the midst of efforts to battle the Eagle Bluff Wildfire in Osoyoos in July.
The number of uncovered shifts according to Johansen is worse than it was when the hospital was closing the emergency department earlier in the year.
“We are heading down the road in the wrong direction very rapidly,” said Johansen.
The issue didn’t just arise in 2023, but has been ongoing, something that the Mayor of Oliver felt is a reflection of the lack of priority the Ministry of Health has given the situation in the South Okanagan.
Johansen spoke directly to Minister of Health Adrian Dix at the 2022 Union of BC Municipalities, and has been in contact with the local MLA to follow up on addressing the issue.
“I also hope that he expresses my concerns that we’re in unprecedented waters here and we’re at a tipping point,” said Johansen. “Unless something gets done as soon as possible, we’re going to see continuing and the continuing expansion of closures at General Hospital.”
In a press release issued on Sept. 1, IH stated that they had been able to secure physician coverage starting on Saturday morning.
“Interior Health is committed to emergency services in Oliver, and will continuously work to secure coverage in the event of any service interruptions. We are pleased to have secured physician coverage for this weekend,” reads the release.
During the closure time, all other inpatient services will continue as normal at South Okanagan General Hospital, but people who need emergency care will instead need to head to the Penticton Regional Hospital.
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.
Anyone unsure whether an emergency room visit is warranted can call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca for non-emergency health information from nurses, dietitians and pharmacists 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
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