The emergency department at the Slocan Community Health Centre in New Denver will resume 24-hour service as of Tuesday.
In a statement, Interior Health said it has recruited two more registered nurses and can now go back to normal operations.
The emergency room has only been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. since mid-January, with patients diverted overnight to Arrow Lakes Hospital in Nakusp. At the time of the change, the health authority said it was related to staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.
“I would like to thank the community for its support while we managed Omicron-driven staffing challenges earlier this year and reduced emergency services to maintain safe patient care,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said in a news release issued today.
In an interview, Lannon de Best, the executive director for clinical operations for the Kootenay Boundary, said that while Omicron was the initial reason for reduced service, they took the opportunity to more broadly analyze their staffing needs.
“At that time the decision was made that the only way to allow us to resume services safely was to complete some recruiting goals which we’re happy to have been able to do,” he said.
The two new nurses transferred from communities outside of Interior Health, he added, and completed an orientation period over the last few weeks. “We wanted to make sure everything was going to plan.”
Another staff member is also returning from leave. However, De Best says they are still recruiting for some casual positions, which would “allow a bit of a buffer” in the system in case someone is sick.
“I’m pleased the emergency department is resuming 24/7 service in our community,” New Denver Mayor Leonard Casley said in the news release. “Having access to 24/7 care provides our community with the ability to seek prompt medical attention regardless of challenges posed by geographical location and limited prehospital services.”
In a follow-up interview, Casley said he is relieved with the reopening, as it took longer than expected. But he added Interior Health worked closely with the village and provided them with regular updates on their recruitment efforts.
Now, he says, they will turn their attention to another health-related challenge: BC Ambulance staffing. He says changes implemented late last year have not worked well in Nakusp and New Denver.
“There have been cases where we’ve had no coverage or been down to one ambulance attendant for each community with the fire department making up the difference to keep services going,” he said. “It’s a snowball effect when one service is lacking, it puts a strain on all the rest.”
Interior Health said it’s hard to know how many patients were inconvenienced by the ER closure, as some with less urgent needs may have waited until the morning to seek treatment, which wouldn’t be tracked, and some may have gone to other locations without them knowing about it. Still others may have called 911 and been transferred to alternate sites, but those patients may have gone to larger centres anyway if their needed higher levels of care.