11% of Interior healthcare staff called in sick to work last week

Interior's 'healthcare crisis'

Close to double the normal amount of healthcare staff called in sick to work in Interior Health last week due to COVID-19, putting more pressure on an already stretched-thin healthcare system.

During Question Period at the BC Legislature Wednesday afternoon, Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield pressed Premier John Horgan and Minister of Health Adrian Dix to admit the province is in a “healthcare crisis,” relaying what she's heard from Kelowna General Hospital emergency physician Dr. Jeffrey Eppler.

“I have never seen morale lower than it is now and I've never seen such turnover,” Merrifield quoted Dr. Eppler as saying, adding that KGH is overflowing with “more patients than they have available stretchers.”

In his response, Dix said the province's healthcare system is facing “fundamental challenges.”

“We have currently, in Interior Health, a rate of absence because of COVID-19 of approximately 11 per cent – 11 per cent of staff missed at least one day last week,” he said. “That ordinarily would be six per cent and that presents real challenges on the ground.”

Dix says Kamloops' Royal Inland Hospital is facing the most significant staffing challenges in the province, and even the country, saying “no hospital in Canada has faced the pressure at Royal Inland Hospital.” But he defended his government's efforts, noting 200 nurses were hired at the hospital in 2021, and more have been hired this year.

But Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone said it hasn't been enough.

“There's massive staff shortages [at RIH],” Stone said. “Over the next two months there's 20,000 unfilled shift hours in the ER and the ICU, there's an overflowing emergency room, there's frequent diversions of patients to other hospitals, there's temporary closure of the pediatrics unit, a permanent closure of the coronary care unit, a lack of operating-room time which is resulting in an increasing number of surgeries being done by Kamloops surgeons on Kamloops patients at Kelowna General Hospital.

“And all of this has resulted in a toxic work environment.”

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar quoted one nurse who works at RIH: “Our hospital is on fire. The staffing shortage, downplayed by administration, is in full crisis.'”

A Kelowna woman who took her three-year-old son to Kelowna General Hospital Monday evening after he fell and cut his chin had to deal with the hospital's busy emergency room.

Dana Roblin says it took her about an hour to register her son at the emergency room, after they were first turned away at the urgent care centre at Capri Mall at 8:30 p.m. as it was closing. But she says the ER was packed, so she opted instead to drive to Penticton, where her son was treated promptly.

“The doctor was rude and rushed with our toddler, but the waiting room was empty,” Roblin said, adding they made it home by 2:30 a.m.

Roblin says “the system itself seems to be broken.”

During Question Period, Health Minister Dix noted his government has hired 32,000 healthcare workers across the province in the past two years. He said, “we've done a remarkable job in difficult times.”

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