PORT HARDY—Fears of a long-term closure of the emergency room at Port Hardy Hospital in the New Year are unfounded, Island Health announced this week in response to concerns that arose this from comments in an internal Island Health memo.
“I can tell you that is not going to happen,” said Alison Mitchell, senior manager of Rural Health Services for Island Health in the Mount Waddington region. “That was discussed, but that’s not the direction we’ve decided to go. There won’t be a permanent (ER) closure, whether in Port Hardy or Port McNeill.”
The Mount Waddington region, where Island Health maintains acute care facilities in Alert Bay, Port Hardy and Port McNeill, has been beset with physician and nursing shortages dating back for several years. Mitchell noted Port Hardy and Port McNeill are down to two physicians each, who are faced with juggling their regular clinical hours with a 24-hour on-call schedule at emergency rooms in both communities’ hospitals.
As the majority of emergency room visits can be handled in a clinical setting, Island Health communications director Val Wilson said, the organization is working with physicians, nurse practitioners nurses to expand and enhance its delivery of primary care service. That could take the form of later, evening clinic openings and the offering of additional clinical services, including social workers and staffers in mental health and addictions, home and community care and maternal health.
“We do have challenges,” Wilson said. “The mission of Island Health is to make sure residents have access to quality, primary care. We’re looking at ways to alleviate the pressure on the emergency rooms.”
To that end, Mitchell and Wilson both said recruitment efforts continue to increase staffing of physicians and, potentially, nurse practitioners and nurses on the North Island.
But facing a staffing situation bordering on critical, the physicians in Port Hardy and Port McNeill met recently and presented a series of recommendations and proposals to Island Health managers in Mount Waddington.
“As the current staffing levels cannot sustain two on-call groups, the physicians in Port Hardy and Port McNeill have recommended moving to a single on-call emergency department,” Mitchell wrote in a memo circulated to staff Nov. 14.
The consolidating of the emergency schedules would have meant either closure of one emergency room or rotating, temporary closures at each of the facilities in Port Hardy and Port McNeill.
That memo was leaked sometime between Nov. 14 and Monday, Nov. 17, when concerned Port Hardy residents began posting alarmed messages on social media and contacting Island Health authorities and North Island MLA Claire Trevena to demand the town’s emergency room remain open.
“I have had a lengthy discussion with senior executives at Island Health and they have assured me that there is no intention to close either emergency room,” Trevena said.
The efforts to enhance primary may get a boost from the opening of the new Primary Health Clinic in Port Hardy, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 5.
The Port McNeill Health Clinic, which has recently gone through an extensive remodel, rolled out the first step in its integrated care model today when a mental health and addictions social worker was posted on duty. That position will be staffed at the clinic each Friday, and Mitchell said staff from home and community care and maternal health will also be rotated through the clinic on an ongoing basis.
“We need to be seeing patients in the appropriate settings for their need,” said Mitchell. “We’re looking at all options to preserve the sanity of the physicians we have.”