Organizers of a Sunday rally in Merritt say they're fed up with the repeated temporary closure of the community's hospital due to staffing shortages and are calling on the provincial government to find a solution.
The rally, held at Merritt's Central Park just down the street from the Nicola Valley Hospital, saw around 90 protestors holding signs lining the street as passing vehicles honked in a show of support.
"We're hoping to send a message to the politicians and bureaucrats who are making life and death decisions for the people of British Columbia," said Georgia Clement, one of the rally's organizers.
"The message, I think, is that centralized healthcare is not working for this province — it's certainly not working for the people in rural British Columbia."
The hospital's emergency department has experienced over a dozen temporary closures this year due to staffing shortages, most recently last Thursday.
Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz, who attended the rally, said many people in the community are upset about the numerous closures, adding that "it's only a matter of time" before someone dies as a result.
"Our ambulance has suddenly become taxis to take people from Kamloops to Kelowna, which then falls on our fire department to become paramedics, which they're not," said Goetz.
"It becomes a situation that really hampers how our community operates and runs."
Goetz said the Nicola Valley Hospital is currently running at a 44 percent nurse complement and is still waiting to fill many vacant positions.
"The last time we had an issue, I made some complaints, and the premier mentioned that they had 1,000 nurses ready to go," Goetz said.
"I don't expect it to be fixed in one week, but we need to see a plan on how these nurses are going to arrive to help us and keep our hospital open."
Goetz said he met with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix during the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver several weeks ago, who assured Goetz that Merritt remains a priority.
When asked Thursday about the Merritt Hospital closure, Dix said he's been working closely with the City of Merritt.
"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.
"In Merritt, that means attracting a larger base of doctors and nurses so that we're not as dependent on people coming from other places."
TNRD Director for Area M, David Laird, also attended the rally, telling Castanet that he believes staffing shortages are a result of the provincial government's mismanagement of resources.
"Communities like Merritt should be able to attract healthcare workers. It's one of the larger communities in the Regional District.
"It seems odd that we're always struggling for help, whether it's doctors or nurses, and I think it could be rectified."
Organizers said similar rallies have been planned in other communities, including New Denver, Oliver, and Keremeos.
Goetz told Castanet prior to the rally that the city of Merritt will withhold money from the provincial government in response to the repeated temporary closures, calling the situation "fraudulent" on the part of the ministry.
"This is 10 months into the year, and we've been down 14 times, so if you go by the law of averages, we will probably go down another two times," said Goetz.
"The community rallies every time this is done because we need to show that we're going to continue to fight for this hospital and that we're not going to just let it fade away quietly."