Kaslo learned the date their emergency department hours will be reduced at Tuesday night’s village council meeting.
IH vice president for Community Integrated Health Services attended the meeting along side Dr. Jeremy Etherington, vice president of Medicine and Quality. Their message to council — hour reduction will begin January 6, 2014 with the ER at Victorian Community Health Centre open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We firmly believe consistent, daytime hours of service will help us resolve our ongoing physician recruitment challenges. 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,” said Neuner before council.
This change addresses the uncertainty the community has been facing over the past year in terms of frequent ER closures. It has been closed 38 times between January 1 and November 1, 2013. Of those times, 27 were due to the lack of physician coverage with closure periods varying from overnight to several days at a time.
Maggie Winters is part of the Kaslo and Area Health Care Working Group and she attended Tuesday’s village council meeting while about 200 people from the community gathered outside for a candle light vigil acknowledging the loss of their ER services.
Winters said few were surprised at the announcement made by IH.
“We pretty much knew exactly what they were coming here to say,” she said. “We’ve known it was coming. We’ve been trying to stave it off but to no avail. Now, I think we just need to regroup, figure out how to move forward and how we work with them to ensure the safety of our residents.”
This is something they plan on holding IH “to task” considering the gaps created by a 76 per cent reduction of hours, said Winters.
“Our job is to make sure those gaps are filled adequately and to fight for that.”
Interior Health told Kaslo they understand this change in service means transportation to neighbouring sites is critical in emergency situations minimizing time to high-level care.
They said they’re working in partnership with the BC Ambulance Service to ensure residents have timely access to high level care using skilled paramedics (both on the ground and in the air), and Interior Health’s High Acuity Response Team (HART) based in Trail. The HART team provides a level of care similar to that available in hospital intensive care units.
MLA Michelle Mungall was with the crowd of people assembled outside the council meeting Tuesday evening. Health care being a provincial matter, she has been advocating to the IH on behalf of Kaslo since the notion of cuts to ER services first came to light over a year ago.
“This is a very important issue,” she told the Star. “Absolutely, I am concerned about 24/7 care in Kaslo and the north end of Kootenay Lake.”
Round the clock emergency care is needed in that community — “geography of the area making it common sense,” she said.
The Nelson-Creston representative understands physician recruitment is a challenge due to workload expectations in rural centres.
“I’ve heard that from physicians. I’ve heard that from the IH and I’ve heard that from the working group,” she said.
Interior Health now plans to focus on recruiting a physician for primary care, “physicians who are committed to Kaslo, physicians who are interested in providing consistent services to meet the majority of residents’ health-care needs during the busiest hours of the week,” they said in a release.
Mungall suggested looking at alternative models should have happened prior to “taking this route.”
“Of course, now the concern is once we lose these services will we ever get them back,” she said. “In asking that question of the IH, they say they’re always open to bringing 24/7 back but their step one is getting physicians into the community.”
Kaslo currently has .5 FTE physicians as opposed to the 2 FTE positions needed leaving primary care.
Winters said Kaslo isn’t giving up on seeing ER services restored when the “health care team is stabilized.”
“This is not the end of it,” she said. “We see this as a bump in the road. We need to keep moving forward and keep the dialogue open with Interior Health in hopes we can eventually ramp up the services.”