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Kamloops MLAs call for government plan on staffing crisis at RIH

Todd Stone and Peter Milobar, B,C. Liberals who represent Kamloops-South Thompson and Kamloops-North Thompson, respectively, called upon Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix to be held to account for conditions seen at Royal Inland Hospital in recent weeks — and longer.
Todd Stone Peter milobar
Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone (left) and Kamloops-North Thompson Peter Milobar speak with reporters on Sept. 13, 2021 about problems plaguing Royal Inland Hospital.

Kamloops' two MLAs are calling for a "credible plan" and a timeline to remedy the staffing crisis at Royal Inland Hospital.

Todd Stone and Peter Milobar, B,C. Liberals who represent Kamloops-South Thompson and Kamloops-North Thompson, respectively, called upon Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix to be held to account for conditions seen at Royal Inland Hospital in recent weeks — and longer.

The MLAs made themselves available to media on Monday morning (Sept. 13).

Staff shortages have been particularly evident in the hospital's emergency room, with the death of a 70-year-old woman in the ER waiting room reported last week, long wait times and an exodus of ER nursing staff in recent months.

Pressure has mounted on the hospital over the summer from a fourth wave of COVID-19, including a second outbreak at the hospital, relocation of wildfire evacuees and anti-vaccination protests, which briefly disrupted operations and demoralized health-care workers.

"We're getting stories every single day from nurses that are completely burnt out — nurses who are saying they feel broken, that there's no reason to be optimistic the situation is going to improve any time soon.

"The system is broken at the moment and it's a dire crisis," Stone said.

Late last week, Dix promised a "full and comprehensive review" on the death of the 70-year-old woman in the RIH ER waiting room, but stopped short on providing specific steps as to how the staffing shortage will be remedied.

Days later, on Saturday, Sept. 11, Interior Health issued a statement on ER staffing levels at RIH, saying that a full complement includes 13 nurses and noting recent hiring initiatives, including two permanent full-time staff starting soon and temporary nurses being brought in to support permanent staff — part of $1 million allotted to the hospital's ER earlier this year by the provincial government.

On Monday, Dix addressed the matter once again during a COVID-19 press conference, repeating his acknowledgment of the challenges seen at Kamloops' hospital, which he said is currently at 117 per cent. Dix also said Royal Inland Hospital had 32 COVID-19 patients, accounting for about half of all hospitalized COVID patients in the Interior Health region — and of those patients, 13 were in the ICU.

The two MLAs said they have both received emails from nurses, doctors and other health-care workers, stating often there are only three or four nurses on duty in the ER.

"Up to one-quarter of all nursing staff in the ER have left the department in one form or another, whether that's on stress leave, quitting outright or asking to be transferred to other departments," Stone said.

While the two permanent nursing staff members are expected to begin working in the ER soon, MLA Stone isn't satisfied with the response.

"That is simply not good enough. That fails those nurses, that fails all health-care providers and, most importantly, that fails patients," Stone said.

He called upon Horgan to come to Kamloops and speak directly with health-care workers and media.

When asked about his involvement in urging the NDP government to act, Stone said that, as opposition MLAs, neither he nor Milobar have been able to speak with the minister directly. Stone also pointed to efforts made by Ken Christian, mayor of Kamloops and chair of the Thompson-Nicola Hospital District, who he said has been trying without success to speak with Dix for weeks.

"It's appalling," Stone said.

Upon their return to the legislature on Oct. 4, the two MLAs said they plan on raising the issue in a further attempt at seeking answers.

Milobar said the issue also includes staffing shortages in nearby hospitals, including Clearwater and Ashcroft, both of which have had to periodically close their emergency rooms overnight or on weekends due to staffing shortages.

Milobar also questioned the government's approach to improving access to health care by opening urgent primary care centres, including the one in Royal Inland Hospital.

The Kamloops-North Thompson MLA said he has been told a low number of patients are using the facilities and that despite being celebrated as a success by the government, they aren't doing much to alleviate pressure on hospitals.

"One just has to look around the city to see all of the walk-in clinics that have closed since that urgent primary care centre opened," Milobar said, calling upon the premier and health minister to release information showing how many patients are seen at urgent primary care centres.

Both MLAs also called upon the government to increase the number of nursing spaces available at Thompson Rivers University, which currently takes in 80 nursing students each year.