The head of Interior Health says she acknowledges the frustration of small-town mayors who felt blindsided last week when a number of emergency rural healthcare closures were announced — but, Susan Brown said, public health and safety has to come first.
Brown, the CEO of Interior Health, explained the roll-out of the closures to Castanet and said she had good conversations with some of the upset mayors on Monday.
“We’ve seen a significant spike in sick calls from our staff — as you’ve seen across the whole of society, actually — with this Omicron variant,” she said.
“It put us into a situation where I felt that our staff and patient safety could be brought to concern if we didn’t take swift action.”
Brown said staffing levels were “the driving force” behind IH asking last week for approval for the emergency temporary closures — measures she said would allow staff to be redeployed in a way that would best make use of resources.
“And as soon as we got approval for our plan, that went public,” she said.
“I do understand from the mayors why that would be frustrating, and I do understand their point of view. I’m trying to work with each mayor to mitigate any concerns they have.”
The mayors were not happy. At last Thursday's Thompson-Nicola Regional District meeting, Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer said the incident showed a lack of "respect" for rural communities.
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said he was "completely blindsided" by the announcement, and Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden, who is also editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal, said she found out about the closures in her capacity as a journalist before she learned the news officially as mayor.
Brown said she had a good conversation with Stamer on Monday. Stamer agreed, describing the discussion as a "frank" one.
Castanet asked Brown whether she wishes she’d handled the roll-out of last week’s closures differently.
“When safety’s at the forefront, you have to pay attention to that — it’s our No. 1 concern in healthcare,” she said.
“However, that being said, how things get announced is really important, and it wouldn’t be our usual practice that [municipalities] would be learning of this announcement without a heads up.”