Merritt mayor says he’ll bill the province over continued ER closures | CBC News

The mayor of Merritt, B.C., is fed up over the fifth ER closure this year of the Nicola Valley Hospital and says he’ll be sending the province a bill for the continued closures. 

“This has been a problem we’ve been dealing with quite a lot quite often,” said Mike Goetz, adding that Nicola Valley’s ER closed 19 times last year.

“We’re going to be at 41 C today. We were at 38 C yesterday,” Goetz said Monday. “These are temperatures that can become dangerous. So it’s really the worst possible time that our hospital could be closed.” 

Goetz says when the ER is closed, Merritt residents who need emergency care will have to drive almost an hour to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. 

A man in a blue shirt stands in front of a house with flowers in the background.
Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz says he will send the province a bill of $89,000 over emergency room closures in the last year and a half. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

When B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedics have to transport someone to Kamloops, that takes them out of the community for at least two hours, according to Goetz.

That means Merritt firefighters, the majority of whom are on-call volunteers, have to cover any medical calls, with Goetz saying he would bill the province for the municipality and fire department’s costs.

“It’s unacceptable. We need an operating ER,” the mayor said.

Number of ERs closed over weekend

Nicola Valley Hospital was one of four emergency rooms closed in the province’s Interior over the weekend because of a shortage of doctors and nurses.

Hospitals in Lillooet, Williams Lake and Oliver were also closed.

All three have since reopened — but the Nicola Valley ER will be closed until Tuesday morning, according to Interior Health.

Goetz says he’ll be sending the province a bill for $34,000 for the 19 closures last year to cover the municipality’s costs, plus another $55,000 to cover the added strain on Merritt Fire Rescue. 

He’s encouraging mayors in Williams Lake and Oliver, who have also been grappling with frequent ER closures over the last year, to do the same.

Opposition responds to ‘crisis situation’

B.C. United health critic Shirley Bond said the governing B.C. NDP has not done enough to respond to the “crisis situation.”

“When your emergency room is closed and you are literally told that you have to drive  — it can be hundreds of kilometres, not just around the corner or around the block  —  it’s a really significant concern,” Bond told CBC News.  

She praised the health-care staff in rural communities who are working overtime to deal with the persistent shortages. 

A smiling woman with short hair and glasses wearing a blue blazer.
Prince George MLA Shirley Bond says the ongoing ER closures are a symptom of a ‘crisis situation.’ (BC Liberals)

On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix told a news conference, speaking French, that the province is “fighting day after day to make sure, when it’s possible, to keep our emergency [departments] open during summer but also each day of the year.” 

The B.C. government announced in May it would earmark $155.7 million to encourage health-care staff to work in rural communities. That includes expanding the rural incentive program — which offers up to $8,000 to health-care workers in rural areas — to 74 communities, up from 18. 

Goetz said the community needs 44 per cent more nurses, and despite the hiring push, the community remains under-resourced when it comes to health care staff. 

WATCH | Province offers incentives to get nurses to work in rural B.C.: 

B.C. increases nurse incentives for rural and remote communities

As of April 1, the province is offering nurses signing bonuses in the hopes of bringing much-needed help to the struggling health-care sector in rural areas.

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