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Nurses rally at B.C. Interior hospital over security, staffing concerns

Nurses held a lunch-hour rally at Nicola Valley Hospital Wednesday to call for better security and staffing at the facility. (BCNU) Nurses held a lunch-hour rally at Nicola Valley Hospital Wednesday to call for better security and staffing at the facility. (BCNU)
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Nurses held a rally Wednesday at a hospital in the B.C. Interior that closed its emergency department more than a dozen times last year due to insufficient staff.

The lunch-hour gathering at Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt was held to put pressure on Interior Health to do more to address "security concerns and systemic staffing shortages" at the facility, according to the BC Nurses' Union.

Nurses at the hospital say the health authority has ignored their calls for increased security after two recent incidents, the BCNU said in a statement Wednesday.

The most recent incident happened two weeks ago and involved a person following a nurse into the building during a night shift. The intruder was found sleeping in the facility the next morning, according to the BCNU.

Nurses also requested extra security after a stabbing in the facility's parking lot last October, the union said.

"It’s the employer’s duty to ensure a safe workplace," said BCNU president Adriane Gear, in the statement.

"Despite nurses' repeated asks for security at this facility, nothing has been done. This, as they work 16-hour-plus shifts to keep the ER doors open because of the staffing challenges they continue to deal with."

Nicola Valley Hospital saw more than a dozen temporary closures of its emergency room last year, most of them attributed to "limited physician availability" or other staffing shortages.

The situation was so bad that Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said he planned to withhold health-care payments to the province over lack of reliable service. He encouraged other local leaders to do the same. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-mayor-wants-other-cities-to-consider-withholding-payments-to-province-over-er-closures-1.6596153

"It affects the way you live," he told CTV News back in October.

"On the weekend, I was out with a couple of friends and somebody said, 'Be careful, don't get hurt because our hospital's closed down.'"

When the department is closed, patients are instructed to travel roughly an hour to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, 84 kilometres away.

So far in 2024, the facility has seen only two closures, according to news releases posted on the Interior Health website. Both came within a week of each other in February.

Nurses say staffing challenges remain, however, citing a growing and aging population – as well as Merritt's location on the main highway between the Lower Mainland and the Interior – as pressures that contribute to demand at Nicola Valley Hospital.

A lack of long-term care facilities also puts pressure on the hospital's ER, according to the BCNU, which says there's "no action plan in place to effectively retain the nurses who currently work at the hospital and recruit other nurses to the community."

“Nurses don’t want to see patients suffer any longer," said Gear. "The people of Merritt deserve better health care. It’s not uncommon for the hospital’s nurse vacancy rate to hover at twice what it should be, but Interior Health has yet to provide tangible staffing solutions that will address the crisis in this community.”  

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