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Controversial ER closure sign in Williams Lake rooted in nursing shortage: Union

Latest Statistics Canada data shows B.C. has 5,850 nursing vacancies
A sign posted at Cariboo Memorial Hospital on Monday, Oct. 2, indicated the emergency room was closed. (Photo submitted)

The sign posted at the Cariboo Memorial Hospital Oct. 2 notifying people the emergency room was closed **unless patient is imminently dying** is indicative of much larger issues in health care, said BC Nurses’ Union president Adrian Gear.

“There is a province-wide nursing staff crisis, there’s a physician shortage and there is a significant impact on patient care,” Gear told the Black Press Media. “That’s what it reminded me of.”

Gear, who was elected president of BCNU in September 2023, said it was an interesting choice of words on the sign, but there are situations every day in B.C. where hospitals are on diversion or emergency rooms are closing.

She said the union hears from members all the time of situations where they can’t understand why a hospital isn’t being put on diversion because the staffing levels are so critically low.

“I do see this as an opportunity for Interior Health and the Ministry of Health to focus their efforts on how they plan to address the crisis, like ERs in Cariboo Memorial, instead of the sign.”

While she declined comment on who posted the sign diverting patients from the local emergency room, she said she understands the specifics around the situation are under review.

Interior Health confirmed last week the investigation is ongoing and that patients have confirmed they were diverted that night.

Gear said some facilities are staffed with only a few nurses and base line staffing, so it does not take much for the level to be critical, such as one person suddenly calling in sick, which IH vice-president of clinical operations Diane Shendruk said was the case at CMH on Oct. 2.

Generally speaking, many of the nurses working in emergency rooms currently are not emergency-room qualified, Gear added.

“They beg, borrow and steal from other areas. It’s not just about having enough nurses it is also about not having enough emergency-qualified nurses. Is a nurse coming from another area better than no nurse? Absolutely. But it puts a tremendous burden on that nurse who is not qualified to work in that area.”

It takes an extra two years of training to be an emergency nurse and years of experience to become confident in dealing with traumas and cardiovascular emergencies, she said.

Gear said BCNU is very pleased with the recent federal announcement that there will be transfer payments to the province over three years.

“That funding will go a long way to implementing the minimum nurse and patient ratios that have been agreed to,” she explained, adding the union is working with the province to determine those ratios.

“There are already standards set but when we are able to name the ratio for emergency rooms, the health authorities will have to deliver on that.”

Ratios also consider types of nurses and qualifications that are required to work in a certain area.

Latest Statistics Canada data shows B.C. has 5,850 nursing vacancies.

READ MORE: ‘Disturbing’ sign at Williams Lake ER sparks debate in legislature, investigation

READ MORE: Williams Lake ER closure Monday, Oct. 2 comes a surprise to city council

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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