Staffing shortage shuts down Castlegar ER

Interior Health had to shut down Castlegar’s emergency room Saturday when a second registered nurse was not available for a 12-hour shift.

Interior Health had no choice but to shut down Castlegar’s emergency room Saturday when a second registered nurse was not available for a 12-hour shift.

Patients showing up at the facility between 1:30 and 8 p.m. were directed to Trail or Nelson.

“In this case, it wasn’t known in advance and management actually became aware of it late Friday evening that our scheduling office wasn’t able to fill a shift,” explained Diane Gagnon, IH community integrated health services administrator for Kootenay Boundary.

BC Ambulance Services and sister ER rooms were notified of the closure as a result.

The Castlegar ER usually has two RNs on duty during operations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and it would not have been safe or responsible to run the facility any other way, said Gagnon. Despite calls out to a shared regional casualty pool and even an attempt to get a licensed practical nurse on duty, the ER only secured a RN to work over time up to 1:30 p.m. that afternoon and had to shut down thereafter.

“We’re doing everything we can in terms of maintaining this service and I’d like to say we are committed to keeping that ER department open and committed to reviewing what happened on Saturday to see if there isn’t something else we could do better,” said Gagnon.

Trail, Castlegar and Nelson ER departments have permanent site-specific workers but share casualty employees to ensure professionals looking for full-time hours have the opportunity to work at other facilities within the region.

Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy told Castlegar News reporter Craig Lindsay she has been busy in the last several days fielding questions from local constituents about the hospital closure.

“From my perspective, it’s totally unacceptable,” she told Lindsay. “I’ve talked to people in IHA and people that work in IHA and what it seems like is that they don’t have enough nurses. IHA said they went through all the proper protocol they’re supposed to go through when they’re calling somebody in.

“I think there has to be something seriously wrong that they can’t get a nurse, who’s qualified to work in the ER, to come in when they have at least 12 hours notice. I’m worried about what that says, they said it’s the first time, but is it going to happen again? How are they going to stop it from happening again? And do we have enough nurses hired?

“We need to ask IHA – they just hired three nurses, but they’re all casual, so they can go anywhere in the area. When you’re on casual you can pick and choose where you go to work.

“You also don’t have permanent work which makes it difficult. Any nurses I talk to – there’s very few that just want to be casual. The majority want full-time work.”

It’s also very important to hire nurses with the training and skills to work in the ER, said Conroy.

“I’m really concerned about it,” she said. “I’m glad it’s only the first time. But it begs the question: if it happens once does that mean it’ll never happen again?”