‘Do something’ Merritt major pleads as patient arrives at closed ER

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Merritt major is worried for the safety of doctors and nurses driving many hours to fill in when hospitals are short-staffed

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The major of Merritt said his level of frustration was nearing the boiling point after the small Nicola Valley Hospital was shut down last week for the 11th time this year because of a nursing shortage.

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“It’s no way to run a health-care system,” Mike Goetz said.

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An elderly man was discovered around 3:45 am Thursday in critical condition lying on the ground at the hospital doors and had to be taken by ambulance to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, 85 kilometers away.

The victim was having trouble breathing and communicating with the firefighters, who were the first to respond, according to Dave Tomkinson, Merritt’s fire chief.

The hospital had been waiting to open when a nurse arrived from Vernon, almost five hours away, but the nurse was recalled to deal with a fatal car crash near Revelstoke.

“We are teetering on the edge of a razor,” Goetz said. “There is absolutely no plan other than crossing your fingers and hoping nobody gets sick on that day, or a nurse doesn’t get sick, a doctor doesn’t get sick.

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“Every day you wake up, it’s fingers crossed hoping you have a hospital that day, that’s where we’re at.”

Merritt is still mourning the death of Claire Newman, a city councilor who was killed on July 4 near Valemount by a hit-and-run driver.

“We just lost a councillor here on the highway in a tragic accident and what really bothers me is they’re plopping nurses and doctors onto the highways, mostly nurses, who are traveling from their community long distances to another community.

“They may be tired from a long shift they’ve just worked, you’re putting people at risk with this type of approach, asking nurses to drive all over the countryside.”

He hopes it doesn’t take someone dying to force a change.

“I mean, what more do you need to have happen? Someone is going to pass away at the foot of our hospital doors.”

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There is an ambulance station attached to the Merritt hospital, but its paramedics were on another call Thursday morning. They arrived several minutes after the firefighters, according to the fire chief.

BC Emergency Health Services confirmed paramedics took a patient from Merritt to Kamloops Thursday morning, but a spokesman said no other information could be released because of privacy concerns.

“We don’t track information related to patient conditions following our role in caring for and transporting patients to hospital,” he added.

Goetz said that when a patient is transported to Kamloops, paramedics are required to stay there until the patient is admitted to the hospital.

“They can’t just drop them off,” the major said. “If they have to sit in the emergency room for eight hours waiting, we lose an ambulance in our town for eight hours.”

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Sometimes the Merritt hospital has shut down from Friday evening until Monday morning, Goetz said.

It’s inconceivable, the major said, that the fire chief would phone him to say his department wouldn’t be responding to calls until Monday morning. Same goes for the police. Why should the hospital be any different?

Goetz wrote an email for Adrian Dix, the health minister, on Thursday expressing his exasperation. He signed it, ‘Do something, anything. Signed POed.’

“My frustration level every time our hospital closes is getting to a boiling point,” Goetz said on Friday. “I’m trying to protect my community.

“Everybody’s got to be that much more careful: Don’t get hurt, don’t have a stroke, don’t have a heart attack, you know? Wait till Monday? It’s unacceptable.”

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