Kaslo faces reduction in on site emergency care

The Interior Health decision to reduce ER hours means the hospital road sign is in use between 9 and 5.
The Interior Health decision to reduce ER hours means the hospital road sign is in use between 9 and 5.

By Suzy Hamilton, The Nelson Daily

Like the other 300 residents who attended Tuesday’s Kaslo Village Council  meeting, Maggie Winters is not happy about Interior Health’s decision to reduce Kaslo’s emergency room hours to weekdays, 9 am to 5 pm.

“But at least a decision takes some of the uncertainty away,” said the spokesperson for the Kaslo and Area Health Care Working Group.

Winters and her committee worked for a year to find the equivalent of two full time physicians willing to be on call 24/7 for the emergency department at Kaslo’s Victoria Community Health Centre.

Their efforts did not pay off. Interior Health announced at the Nov. 12  meeting that reduced hours would begin January 6, 2014, due to lack of physician recruitment.

“We cannot change their decision at this point,” said Winters. “We view this as a situation we have to work our way through and continue discussions with IH.”

IH said the emergency room has been closed 27 times since last January due to lack of physician coverage. Presently Kaslo has one half time doctor.

Several locums worked in Kaslo during the year, “but they elected not to stay,” said IH vice president for Community Integrated Health Services Andrew Neuner who attended the council meeting.

“They were not prepared to work 24/7.

“We firmly believe consistent, daytime hours of service will help us resolve our ongoing physician recruitment challenges,” Neuner told councilors and residents, most of whom listened outside village chambers.

“Once we have a stable pool of physicians in place we can build the foundation for a strong robust primary care centre with ready access to physicians, diagnostic testing and public health nursing services.”

He said it will be easier to recruit physicians if they don’t have to commit to being on call 24/7.

According to Neuner, this will be a joint effort between IH, who is responsible for recruiting and hiring doctors and providing details such as the business model, and Kaslo who will advertise and promote the area and possibly offer incentives.

But Kaslo Mayor Greg Lay is frustrated by the whole process. “The IH won’t share any details,” he said. “For instance, they say they are negotiating with the ambulance service, but I want to see the actual plan.”

In fact, said Lay, Kaslo village council passed a motion of non-confidence regarding Interior Health shortly after the UBCM in September.

“Kaslo sent 250 letters to the Minister of Health and he replied that they are working with IH and the problem is solved! IH has lost a huge amount of credibility.

"They say they can’t recruit because Kaslo is the problem.”

Lay sees the problem as urban management versus rural management of health care.

“We have citizens who have worked hard and paid their taxes all their lives, and now they are marginalized with sub-standard care.”

Lay cites the August 2013 Ross Report  (www.kaslo.ca/reports) prepared by  Dr. John Ross MD at Dalhousie University’s Department of Emergency, which recommends, among other things, 24/7 emergency care for Kaslo using doctors, paramedics and nurse practitioners.

Neuner said he agreed with many of the recommendations in the report, and that paramedics could be a solution to 24/7 coverage, but that would be a decision after physicians were in place.

In the meantime, Neuner stated that in emergency situations not covered, a mobile intensive care unit (HART) can be dispatched from Trail or flown to Kaslo to meet Kaslo’s ambulance.

Residents are urged to call 9-11 or Health Link BC at 8-1-1.

He also said it is too early to say if nursing jobs will be lost in the downsizing of emergency room hours. 

As for Kaslo Council meeting: “It is an emotional issue for the community,” said Neuner. “Residents want to feel safe. They are passionate (about their health care) and that’s a good thing.

“The decision did not have anything to do with money, it was a staffing issue.”