ABOVE: Cutting the ribbon at the new Kootenay Lake Hospital ER in September. Dignitaries include (second from left): hospital district chair Marguerite Rotvold

Year in Review No. 7: A tale of two emergency rooms

Kootenay Lake Hospital’s new emergency room finally opened in September, just as Kaslo’s ER was threatened with reduced hours.

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

Kootenay Lake Hospital’s new emergency room finally opened in September, almost a year behind schedule. The delays were blamed on floor problems — moisture in the concrete resulted in lifting and bubbling.

“It’s become apparent the little issues are actually significant issues and we are going to have the contractor remove and replace it,” Interior Health acute care director Ingrid Hampf said in May, adding budget contingencies would take of it.

It was the fourth time the grand opening was pushed back since the expansion was announced in 2009. But the bumps and detours eventually gave way to excitement and celebration.

Almost 150 people packed the new waiting area to hear speeches from dignitaries and medical staff on the eve of the official opening.

“It’s a huge improvement to the community,” said Jan Flett, a 32-year emergency room nurse. “This feels like the first big new thing we’ve gotten after we had so much taken away.”

“The end product is beautiful,” said emergency medicine chief Dr. Rahul Kholsa. “If there is frustration with the delays, they were there because the folks managing this project insisted on perfection.”

But just as the Nelson project came to fruition, Interior Health confirmed plans to close the emergency room at Victorian Community Health Centre in Kaslo on evenings and weekends. It cited a “long-standing challenge” of recruiting physicians and nurses, and noted the department experienced 60 service interruptions due to limited resources.

“Kaslo residents deserve a stable ER service, rather than the frequent closures experienced this past year,” Interior Health community director Linda Basran said, adding the decision was made jointly with the community’s physicians, who felt they could no longer sustain round-the-clock coverage.

But the community was furious at not being consulted and unwilling to accept travelling to Nelson for medical emergencies outside business hours. Over 300 residents packed a public meeting and village council asked for a two-year moratorium on any changes.

“I’m a little resentful, frankly, that we’re being told what we need by so-called experts,” Mayor Greg Lay said. “We’re the experts because we live here. Interior Health is treating us like peasants out on the countryside, like we don’t know what’s good for us.”

The changes, slated to take effect in November, would have meant the layoff of five registered nurses, even though their union argued nurse practioners could continue to staff the emergency room when doctors weren’t available.

But following a meeting between between Lay, regional district director Andy Shadrack, and Interior Health CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny, Kaslo received an apology for the way the reduced hours were announced, a promise to work with the village on recruitment, and a postponement of any changes to the end of January.

“We now have some time to [decide] how best to meet Kaslo’s health care needs given ongoing challenges,” said Dr. Alan Stewart, Interior Health’s senior medial director.

We’ll soon learn how much headway has been made.

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