The people of Princeton, B.C. are seeing the consequences of a province-wide rural doctor shortage after their emergency room had to be closed because nobody was available to staff it.

Interior Health Authority officials shut down the ER at Prince General Hospital at 8 a.m. Monday for a full 24 hours because the on-call doctor fell ill.

Connie Miller, 79, was turned away from the emergency ward after a branch pierced her eye while she was gardening. The family didn't want to rely on an ambulance and opted to make the more-than-an-hour-long drive themselves to the nearest ER in Penticton.

"We didn't know that the emergency was closed today," her niece Lyndy Tatlin told CTV News.

Other residents of the small interior town were livid about the closure.

"If they have a heart attack, who's taking responsibility for that? Interior health? I don't think so. The provincial government? Probably not. So the person will die," Mike Dennington said.

Princeton Mayor Randy McLean says the situation is unacceptable, particularly on a long weekend.

"This can't take place. This absolutely can't take place," he told CTV News.

"Our locum that was providing coverage today took seriously ill and couldn't be here, and that's fine, but you need to have a contingency process in place."

The health authority says there is a contingency plan, but with no doctor available, closing the ER was the safest thing to do.

"This is not an ideal situation and we are absolutely working in a collaborative way with the town of Princeton, with a number of different partners, so we can try and recruit additional physicians," administrator Susan Brown said.

Princeton isn't the first community to face doctor shortages. Last summer, the health care centre in Lytton had to be shut down for six days.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Michele Brunoro