The mayor of Merritt says the city will withhold money from the provincial government in response to repeated temporary closures of the community’s hospital due to staffing shortages — a situation he described as “fraudulent” on the part of Victoria.
The Nicola Valley Hospital’s emergency department has been closed more than a dozen times so far this year, most recently for a 24-hour period ending on Friday morning. A rally protesting the closures is planned for the community on Sunday.
“We're not paying for the days that we were down — we’re just simply not doing it,” Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz told Castanet.
“Not only are we not doing that, but when our hospital is closed and our ambulances are out of town shuffling people to Kelowna and Kamloops and our fire department has to step in, which they have been doing, we’ll also be billing the province for the use of our fire department for a job that’s out of their scope. We can’t have those things loaded down onto our fire department with no compensation, so we will be billing for the time that our fire department is answering calls as paramedics.”
Goetz said he would welcome a court challenge from the province.
“If we end up in court, then it will be interesting to see what the government has to say when they have to defend a policy that says they didn’t deliver the service but they demand that we pay for it,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens with that."
Goetz accused the province of “defrauding” municipalities like his.
“When you pay for something and you don’t get it, to me, that’s fraudulent — it’s a fraudulent way of doing things,” he said.
“If you pay for something, you should get it. The fact of the matter is we’re not getting the services that we’re paying for, so we shouldn’t have to pay for them."
Goetz met with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix last week at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver. Dix said they had a good conversation, and he commended Goetz and the City of Merritt for working with Interior Health on housing initiatives for healthcare workers.
"It’s critical that we be open in the places people expect us to be open 24/7, 365 — we need to meet that standard,” Dix said when asked Thursday about the Merritt hospital closure.
“And in Merritt, that means attracting a larger base of doctors and nurses so that we’re not as dependant on people coming from other places."
Goetz said he can’t provide an estimate or a ballpark figure for how much money might be withheld.
“I can’t give you that number," he said. "We’ll have to find out what the number is at the end of the year, and then we’ll withhold that.”
Sunday’s rally is slated to get underway at 1 p.m. at Central Park in Merritt, 2975 Voght St. Goetz said he plans to attend.