Interior Health announced on Thursday that the South Okanagan General Hospital’s emergency department would be closed Friday night, marking the second such announcement in about as many weeks. Image courtesy of Google street view

With ‘caretaker’ government in charge, little direction for SOGH

NDP say they want the Liberals out of the way so they can get down to business

The B.C. NDP say they want the Liberals out of the way so they can work to solve the issue of emergency department closures, while the Liberals say they’re on it.

The Interior Health Authority announced on Thursday that it’s closing the South Okanagan General Hospital’s ED overnight Friday due to “limited physician availability,” which NDP health spokesperson and New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy said is unacceptable.

“I think it’s a cause especially for concern, given that we are heading into the summer tourist season, we have a lot of people working on farms in the area and we have serious, serious flooding,” Darcy said.

“I just think it underlines how urgent it is to get a new government in place so that we can start taking action to address the crisis in healthcare and ensure that people who need reliable health services are able to get it.”

Related: South Okanagan General Hospital emergency closing due to lack of doctors

The Liberal Party has formed an interim government since taking the largest chunk of the seats in the May 9 election, but isn’t expected to pass a non-confidence vote after the Legislature sits. If the Liberals indeed fail to capture the confidence of all 83 members of the legislative assembly, the NDP is looking to fill that spot after striking a deal with the B.C. Green Party.

But Darcy accused the Liberals of taking their time to form government, blocking the NDP from getting down to work.

“Christy Clark calls her government a caretaker government, but that means we have been in limbo for the month during the election, as is always the case, but then another six weeks,” Darcy said. “We absolutely need to have a government in place that can sit down and work with the health authority and work with the doctors and staff locally and find solutions to this problem.

“Unfortunately, British Columbians are having to wait and wait and wait, and people in Oliver, it’s very worrisome what people in Oliver will need to do if they need to go to an emergency room, what will they be able to do?”

But Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson said the time between the May 9 election and the expected first sitting of Legislature on June 22 is standard. In 2013 and 2009, the Legislature didn’t sit until June 26 and Aug. 25, respectively, after mid-May elections.

“If you would take a look at the last four or five provincial elections, you’ll see that after a May election, the government did not get back into the legislature, into Victoria, until the end of June at the earliest,” Larson said.

“There’s no stalling involved, here. It’s exactly the same amount of time from last four years ago. … So that’s just rhetoric.”

With that in mind, Larson noted that the B.C. Liberals are still in charge of the government at least until a non-confidence motion is voted on.

“The current government is dealing with the problem,” she said.

“There have been several meetings, and there are some, there’s some really good work being done, but it’s nothing that can be fixed overnight. It’s unfortunate that we have shifts now and then that we don’t have coverage for, but in the long term, we’re working on a long-term solution that makes sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Larson and Darcy both appear to agree on how best to form a solution to the issue: talk to those on the ground, themselves, and work from there.

“We need to talk to the health authority, we need to talk to people in the local hospital, we need to get to the bottom of what the problem is,” Darcy said. “But we do know that this (Liberal) government promised that there would be thousands more doctors by 2015 and there aren’t.”

Larson shared the sentiment that those on the front lines should be the major players in developing a solution to emergency department closures.

“With the help from the Doctors of B.C., the new group that’s formed at the hospital here, Interior Health and the government, they’re working on a long-term solution, instead of just these stop-gap measures,” Larson said. “Which is their job to do.”

But Osoyoos’s Residents for Health Care Committee executive director Brenda Dorosz said she thinks neither party holds a platform that will solve the issue anytime soon.

“Without getting political, I don’t think either party has a solution overnight. It’s going to take a lot of work to change this,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Liberals or NDP in power or the Greens, it’s going to take a lot of work to do it, but let’s make it a priority and let’s get things going.”

This weekend’s closure announcement was the second in June, but the first, nearly two weeks prior, was resolved due to a doctor stepping in to keep the ED running. The worry for Dorosz is that there may not be doctors to step up this time.

“I think the doctors have stepped up very well in the past,” she said. “A couple of the doctors that have done that in the past are not here. … I think both of them, actually, are on vacation, and they’ve earned that.”

At other points, IH has reportedly provided hefty remunerations of up to $1,000 to doctors who step in from other jurisdictions, but Dorosz said there are longer-term solutions out there.

“We would like to see doctors hired specifically for the ER at South Okanagan General. Leave the doctors at their general practices, and let’s have doctors that are hired specifically to cover the ER,” she said.

“I know that’s a difficult task, but there are doctors out there that would prefer to do ER work instead of having general practice.”

But Larson says she doesn’t believe it’s a lack of doctors that’s caused the issue.

“We have 17, I believe, in the South Okanagan. But only half a dozen are willing to work emergency, and a lot of that is to do with their lifestyles. They’re young doctors with families, they don’t necessarily want to spend every weekend working in emergency,” Larson said.

“There needs to be a better form of compensation, without a doubt, for doctors who do work in emergency. And then there’s the lifestyle choices that are being made as well. And I certainly support the doctors in that. I believe the doctors are entitled to a life.”

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