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OP/ED: Second-class status the status quo for Castlegar with IHA

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
February 27th, 2012

I was encouraged, I really was, when Interior Health Authority (IHA) representative Linda Basran came to Castlegar to offer city council, and residents, an unqualified apology for the closure of Castlegar’s emergency ward for eight hours on Feb. 4.

She acknowledged that communication around the closure was totally unacceptable, with city council and emergency first responders learning of the closure on Facebook.

There you have it, I thought, I guess we’re not second-class citizens after all.

Then she went on to assure the assembled crowd, at least to my way of thinking, that Castlegar will continue to see cuts and sub-par medical care in the days, weeks and months to come.

First, in response to councillor Russ Hearne’s point-blank request for the name of the supervisor who signed off on the closure, she declined to answer, saying that she didn’t think naming an individual IHA staffer would be productive or helpful. No one person will be held accountable for the fiasco.

Fair enough, I can see that point …but it gets worse.

She also said that she can’t guarantee this kind of closure won’t happen again – while at the same time insisting the Castlegar ER is adequately staffed with its current compliment of 2.5 full-time-equivalent and 14 casual RNs. She didn’t flat-out say that IHA won’t consider hiring more full-time nurses so they can guarantee closures won’t happen again – but even the slowest thinkers in the room understood her point, I think.

“Generally, IHA is able to bring in casual staff to support any vacant shifts,” was Basran’s response to council’s questions about hiring more nurses.

Well, phew, I feel better, don’t you?

Apparently, IHA considers us adequately staffed even if staffing issues see our ER closed. Can you imagine that happening in Kelowna or Victoria?

Not likely.

And it’s not like the province is inclined to care about places with low concentrations of voting populations like our own – Premier Christy Clark (or her staff), when Castlegar residents posted questions about our ER closure on her Facebook page, simply deleted them.

Hiring enough full-time nurses to guarantee our ER hours simply wasn’t on Basran’s list of solutions – the only real action taken that I could discern was to inform local ER staff about policies IHA already had in place around ER closure and notification.

Wow. Way to pull out all the stops for our residents.

They brought out policies already in place – that was the solution offered to what many people feel was a health-care crisis in our community. Oh, and they’ve had discussions with BC Ambulance Services to “ensure there’s clarity”, by which I think we’re supposed to intuit that we won’t, in future, see an ambulance racing toward a hospital that isn’t even open.

I’m sure we all feel much safer now.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was a service cut tossed into Basran’s pitch, disguised as a solution.

We don’t have enough nurses? Okay, Basran said that rather than hire more, we’ll just sacrifice the gold standard of having two RNs per shift.

“Having two RNs is a luxury – it’s not legislated,” Basran said, explaining they’re “exploring the possibility” of staffing the shifts with one RN and, perhaps, one LPN, instead of the two RNs we’ve come to expect.

So, to sum up – they’ve introduced no new policies, won’t hire more nurses, can’t guarantee they won’t close the ER due to shortages in the future, and are considering cutting back the level of staff training we enjoy in the shifts they do bother to staff.

That’s some apology.

 

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