The Creston Valley Hospital’s emergency department has been closed twice this summer due to staff shortage. (Photo by Aaron Hemens)

The Creston Valley Hospital’s emergency department has been closed twice this summer due to staff shortage. (Photo by Aaron Hemens)

OPINION: Action and accountability needed in B.C.’s health-care crisis

MLA for Kootenay-East Tom Shypitka writes on health-care challenges in the Kootenays

By Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay-East

Week after week, the BC Liberals have been calling on the NDP government to do something about the deteriorating state of our health-care system before the worst happens. Sadly, the very worst has happened.

In the past few weeks, two people have tragically lost their lives because of this crisis. A woman in North Vancouver passed away on a stretcher in the emergency room (ER) after waiting two days for treatment. An Ashcroft woman died of cardiac arrest because her local ER was closed and there was no local ambulance available to get to her in time. These stories are heartbreaking, and I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of these two individuals.

B.C.’s health care crisis is not limited to these two hospitals. In fact, impacts have been felt here in the West Kootenays. At the end of July, staffing shortages led to temporary but indefinite changes to the ER hours at the Slocan Community Health Centre in New Denver. They have been adjusted to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, until further notice. A significant reduction in hours also happened back in January, lasting until early May.

This past weekend, Creston Valley Hospital saw its emergency department on diversion between Friday evening and Saturday morning. It also had an overnight ER closure between July 17 to 18. Meanwhile, Boundary District Hospital in Grand Forks saw a closure of inpatient services back in March.

When ERs are closed, patients and their families often have to drive significant distances to other communities to seek care. Ambulance service has also been challenged by staffing shortages, posing an additional concern.

It’s unacceptable that this is the current reality in our health-care system. Workers are doing everything they can to keep the system functioning, but hospitals are completely overwhelmed and understaffed. There must be accountability.

When we look at how other provincial governments have responded to similar situations, we’ve seen examples of the minister responsible being replaced. New Brunswick’s health minister was recently fired following a traumatic death in the ER. When will we see similar accountability here in B.C.?

We also need action. The BC Liberals have released a 30-day action plan to address issues around primary care, because we know the lack of access to family doctors puts additional pressures elsewhere in the system. We’ve called for improved compensation for overhead and operating costs and an updated and simplified fee schedule, among other suggestions.

We’ve also called for an audit to address the NDP’s Urgent and Primary Care Centres (UPCCs), which also remain understaffed. They are falling short of their goals to attach patients and are often at capacity just a few hours after opening. Castlegar’s UPCC, for example, had only 61 per cent of the staff it is budgeted for, as of March. We’ve asked Health Minister Adrian Dix for more current numbers, but he won’t provide them even though he promised to do so.

My constituency office is being inundated with calls and emails from people struggling to access the help they need. If you’re experiencing these challenges, I encourage you to write to your local MLAs and demand government action, which is needed now.

Health care is critical, and people in the West Kootenays and beyond deserve to have confidence they will have access to the care they need in an emergency.