Staffing shortage extends overnight closures at Alert Bay’s emergency department

Staffing shortage extends overnight closures at Alert Bay's emergency department
Village of Alert Bay
Cormorant Island's only emergency room is facing overnight closures until Aug. 31, according to Island Health.

Temporary overnight closures at Cormorant Island’s only emergency room have been extended through the end of the month and a staff shortage is to blame, according to Island Health.

The health authority says the Cormorant Island Community Health Centre (CICHC) emergency department (ED) located in Alert Bay will be closed temporarily from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. until Aug. 31, two weeks longer than anticipated.

“Anyone experiencing a medical emergency while the ED is closed should call 911. Do not go to the CICHC ED during the hours it is closed, as this will delay your access to care,” Island Health said in a notice Friday.

“Island Health and BC Emergency Health Services have protocols in place to ensure patients are transported to an appropriate alternate site.”

Island Health says the closures come to ensure the safety of patients and amid a health workforce shortage that’s happening not just locally but across Canada.

Its initial notice on July 29 stated that Cormorant Island’s emergency department would only face overnight closures until Aug. 16. That sparked concern from Alert Bay residents, including Randy Govereau who said he was particularly worried about the community’s elders.

“Residents aren’t happy with the closures,” said Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan, noting that nearby Port McNeill and Port Hardy are also seeing the staffing strain.

Last weekend, the Port McNeill and Port Hardy Hospital emergency departments faced overnight closures though Island Health did not release the reasoning.

Adriane Gear, vice-president of the BC Nurses’ Union, said the increased frequency of temporary ER closures on the North Island is a concern for community health in general but especially for an island community.

“It is more concerning, they’re more isolated,” Gear told The Canadian Press. “It’s an island, so it’s not like people can just make the decision to drive off.”

According to Buchanan, ferries to and from Vancouver Island don’t run at night, so residents with medical emergencies will have to be flown out by helicopter or possibly transported by water taxi.

“At this time, Island Health does not have enough nursing staff in the region to maintain safe, consistent 24/7 ED services at the CICHC,” the health authority added in its notice.

“You have to have a minimum level of staff in order for patients to be safe. This planned closure also enables Island Health to ensure consistent, reliable and safe care so the CICHC ED can remain fully operational from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.”

Island Health says it continues to work on recruitment and strategies to secure additional nursing coverage with hopes of resuming 24/7 emergency services on Cormorant Island as soon as possible.

“Island Health acknowledges this is not an ideal situation for the community and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience experienced by this temporary service reduction,” it said.

—With files from Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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