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Northern B.C. community calls on health authority to hire more staff amid ER service disruptions | CBC News


The only hospital in Kitimat has experienced two instances of reduced emergency services in the past two weeks, leading local residents to worry about their safety in the industrial community that is home to a major aluminum smelter.

The Kitimat General Hospital had to close its emergency department overnight from 7 p.m. on July 20 until 8 a.m. the next day. The same situation occurred on July 13-14.

The Northern Health Authority said the disruptions were caused by their decision to transfer the emergency department physician from the Kitimat hospital to the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, about 51 kilometres away.

“Every effort is being made to prevent emergency department service interruptions in the north — whether they are the result of physician or nursing staffing challenges. 

“Emergency departments are only ever on diversion as a last resort — when no other options are available,” Northern Health said in a written statement to CBC News on Wednesday.

British Columbian communities have seen the suspension of hospital emergency services caused by staff shortages in other parts of the province this year, including Saanich on Vancouver Island and Merritt in B.C.’s southern Interior.   

A CBC News analysis of emergency room closures last year found that emergency departments in 13 hospitals in rural B.C. communities were closed for the equivalent of around four months in 2022, an issue that the province attributed to staff shortages driven by waves of sick leaves and more lasting staff retention issues. 

Petition launched to keep Kitimat hospital open 24/7

The disruption in medical services prompted Kitimat resident Dylan Pollock to start an online petition on July 18, calling on Northern Health to recruit more health-care workers to keep the hospital’s emergency department open 24/7. 

The petition has garnered more than 1,100 signatures as of Thursday from the community, home to more than 8,200 people.

Pollock, a 30-year-old worker with Rio Tinto, expressed concern about the temporary suspension of emergency services, given Kitimat’s status as an industrial town with a high risk of dangerous accidents. 

“We have one of the largest industries in North America right now operating in their back door [in Kitimat] whilst they claim to have a hospital on site, they have zero doctors.

“It seems as though Northern Health doesn’t seem to put in the effort to recruit or seek doctors or nurses,” he said.

Pollock says he’s also worried about senior residents in town not being able to receive timely medical help, as they may have to be transferred to the hospital in Terrace, more than an hour away.

Hospital staff complaining about toxic workplace, MLA says

In response to the situation, Northern Health stated that it has been working with B.C.’s Ministry of Health to address health-care staffing challenges in Kitimat and other northern communities. It said there were no plans to relocate physicians from Kitimat to Terrace, home to more than 12,000 people.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says Kitimat residents have long been concerned about the potential permanent loss of their hospital’s emergency services, and the recent disruptions have only heightened their fear.

Ross also highlights the issue of health-care professionals leaving the Kitimat hospital.

“The health-care workers … say there is a toxicity in the workplace,” he told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC’s Daybreak North. “I see everybody migrating to those urban centres.”

A bald-headed man in a blue suit smiles for the camera.
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says many health-care professionals at Kitimat General Hospital have expressed concerns over workplace toxicity. (B.C. Liberal Party)

Mayor Phil Germuth has requested a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix before the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September to discuss the community’s shortage of health-care professionals, according to a news release issued by the district.


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