'We are not going to tolerate this'; rally planned after latest Merritt hospital closure

Hospital closures protested

Organizers of a rally Sunday in Merritt to protest temporary closures of the emergency department at the community’s hospital are hoping for a big turnout and a lot of noise.

“We want to send a very loud message to [Health Minister] Adrian Dix and Susan Brown, the CEO of Interior Health, that we are not going to tolerate this situation anymore,” Georgia Clement, one of the rally’s organizers, told Castanet.

The emergency department at Merritt’s Nicola Valley Hospital has been closed more than a dozen times this year due to staffing shortages — typically not enough doctors or nurses. The most recent closure was from 8 a.m. Thursday until 8 a.m. Friday.

That means that for 24 hours, anyone in the community of about 7,000 people needing emergency care would have to travel to Kamloops or Kelowna.

Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said he will be at the rally.

“I’m going to support our doctors and nurses, and to support our hospital,” he said.

“So it stays open to make sure that we keep letting the government know that we’re here and that we’re not going to go away — and that we need our hospital.”

Clement said she believes the provincial government has to fix the failing system.

“We don’t feel that health authority models for healthcare are working,” she said.

“Centralized healthcare in B.C. is failing British Columbians, particularly rural British Columbians, so we want to draw attention to that.”

Clement said simultaneous rallies are being planned in other communities, including Oliver, New Denver and Keremeos. She said organizers are hopeful the message will be heard loud and clear in Victoria.

“We think the model for healthcare in this province is no longer working and we need it changed,” she said.

“We need our hospitals back in the hands of the people they serve and the communities that they have concern for.”

This is not the first time Merritt residents have rallied to protest hospital closures. In April, hundreds of people attended a similar event.

Goetz said the City of Merritt is planning to create a committee to keep in regular touch with Interior Health to make sure municipal officials are doing everything they can to help keep the hospital open.

Sunday’s rally is slated to run from 1 p.m. until 1:45 p.m. at Central Park in Merritt, 2975 Voght St.

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